Content Freeze

I’ve had a lot of questions on the content freeze recently, and I’d like to clear one of those up: there’s no end date on the freeze. Part of that is practical: until the website launches, we need to make updates to both the old and new site whenever there’s a content changes.

But even after launch, we’re not going to be immediately adding a bunch of accounts. Last time, we had a massive training program where literally hundreds of people learned to use the website to make edits. In retrospect, this was a bad idea:

  • Many people took the training without ever making any changes to the website (only about 1 in 3 accounts on the website is even active anymore, and we’ve deleted dozens of accounts who never made edits)
  • Most people don’t make many edits to the site. Excluding Lori and me, over the last 9 years, the average user has only made about 100 edits – about one per month since launch. There are only 11 people, including 2 retirees, who have made more than 600 page edits since we started. By contrast, Lori has made more than 16,000.* Of course, there are some outliers who have made over a thousand edits – more on them in a minute.
  • Providing web editing access to hundreds of people ensured that our website would never have a consistent voice. Even today, there are sections written in very academic sounding third person, sometimes right next to a more casual 2nd person. If we’re going to provide a good experience to prospective students, this needs to stop.

Right now our focus is on launching the website. Once we’ve launched, and have a better handle on how we’ll handle user permissions, we’ll start exploring ways to help get our really frequent website users more involved. But whatever that process, it will be very slow, and very deliberate.

* These numbers are actually more complicated than this, since we’ve deleted thousands of pages, and I can’t capture those edits in these statistics. Since those pages were often the least edited pages, Lori’s total edits should be several thousand higher. 

Welcome back!

I know, I know, we’re in week 4, and I’m finally putting out my first post of the year. But it’s 2020. It’s that kind of year.

Last week the web team attended the 2020 HighEdWeb annual conference. This is one of my favorite conferences, and it was even better this year because it was absolutely free online (though in central time, which made for some early mornings). Here’s some gems:

Plain Language Matters.

It’s an accessibility issue. It’s an equity issue. People skim online. If we make that hard for them, they leave. Take a look at our previous plain language post.

Resource pages & emails don’t work.

One of the groups at Miami University did a lot of extensive testing. People don’t self serve. If you have a lot of links and resources that you want to put out there, consider a drip campaign to slowly provide those links at a pace people can digest. Use social to highlight different resources at different times. Include titles that highlight the problem the resource solves (“Looking for a tutor late on a Sunday night before class? Look no further!”). Track what you do to see what works (and reach out if you’d like help setting that up!). Rather than a resource page, consider a blog, where those resource links can be provided in context, and do some content marketing for you. We’ve also covered resource pages in the past.

Stop posting flyers and event posters online.

Especially now, when we’re not going to see them in person. Flyers and posters are designed for print, and don’t translate well to digital. If you’re considering putting a flyer or poster online or on a digital sign, reach out – we’ll connect you with some graphic design resources, and help design for the medium you’ll be promoting on.

The college website is for prospective students. And those students know when they’re being marketed to.

Carlton did a great session where they detailed extensive user testing before their homepage redesign. They found things like:

  • prospective students (particularly Gen Z) think the entire website is for them. Even the section clearly labeled “Alumni”. But your homepage should be for them before any other audience: most other audiences search for something, then land on some other page. Prospective students are the most likely, by far, to land on the homepage.
  • they know when pictures are staged. They want to see people in place: shots that show what students actually do some place on your campus, and how that sets you apart. Person under a tree reading a book? Clearly staged. Dining hall shot? Every college has a dining hall. Candid shot of a class outside? Student learning to machine something? Much better.
  • Carousels don’t work. I think one possible exception is a photo gallery, but that’s tricky.
  • The large hero image on a program’s website sets the tone and creates a greater impression than all the text there.
  • From one of their slides: “Students want #nofilter, but we’re giving them #fellowkids”

FAQs don’t work.

While we may think splitting our content up into questions is easier for the student, it actually makes things harder to understand. Read your entire FAQ page, make groups out of the content and write a header for each one, and then rewrite the content in each group to paragraph form. It’ll work better for everyone. Here’s a page with the slides, a sample FAQ with real life before and after examples, and some other resources for why we should stop using FAQ pages. You can also review our previous post on FAQs.

Helpful Plain Language Resources

Today’s helpful resource is the’s web language guidelines. While the whole thing is worth at least a skim, we’ve already covered a lot of the content in depth (see, for instance, the content redevelopment series). But I want to just briefly dive into the section labeled Follow Web Standards. There are four items that get their own subsection:

Avoid FAQs: We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth revisiting. FAQ pages tend to be disorganized and hard to process. Try to eliminate them where you can.

Write effective links: We’ve also mentioned this in the context of accessibility, but it also makes a lot of sense from a usability perspective. Clear links are easier to use.

Repurpose print materials for the web: I think there’s some text here that’s worth quoting:

Don’t cut and paste the text of print documents to create web content. People are more likely to leave your webpage, potentially costing you time and money, because they will not take the time to find what they are looking for.

Print writing is different from web writing.

If you’ve created print materials, you’re going to need to rework them if you want them to be effective on the web. Make sure you’re speaking directly to the page visitor, and using conversational, but clear language. The purpose of print content is different than the purpose of web content.

Avoid PDF overhead: Here’s another quick quote:

The Nielsen Norman Group has done multiple studies on PDFs and has consistently found that users hate them and avoid reading them at all costs.

That should speak for itself. Avoid posting PDFs unless there’s no other option, or unless you need a document to print a certain way.

That’s it for this week, and also this year! Summer starts next week, so I’ll be taking a long break from blogging. Lots more to come this fall, along with lots of detail on the new website!

Coming Soon

In the mid to late 90s, you could count on most websites having some sort of under construction or coming soon message on them. Often as a gif. Mental Floss reports this was due to people seeing a website as a project, like a film or a book, that would be eventually completed. Website design reflected that process: outline your chapters, then fill them in. Hence the placeholder messages and gifs, just so people didn’t get confused when they got to an empty page.

But now we know the web isn’t like that. We now know the web to be a continual process. Content gets stale and you have to revisit. Images need refreshing. And while we can miss certain amazing pieces of 90s web design, I don’t miss the under construction gifs.

Site under construction image
Unless Bill Clinton is the president and you’re excited to replace your VHS tapes with DVDs, you’d better not be using an image like this on your site.

As of right now, the phrase “coming soon” appears on the Lane website 15 times. In 10 instances, buried in the text is a promise that more information on a certain topic is coming soon. On 4 pages, the phrase “coming soon” is the only text on the page.

“Coming soon” and “Under construction” are aspirational messages. They’re a way to tell a visitor that we’ve thought about content we know they’ll care about, and remind them to check back later.

But these intentions often don’t work. Remember those four pages that just have a “coming soon” message? Here’s the last time they were edited:

  • March 30th, 2020
  • February 20th, 2020
  • October 19th, 2018
  • October 16th, 2017

The other pages have a similar range of edit dates. “Coming soon” sometimes seems to mean forever. If I’m browsing the web and I that message, I don’t set up a calendar reminder to come back and check later. I move on.

Here’s a scenario. There’s some new program, and we know about 90% of the information. But we’re waiting on the state to tell us about the application process. We need to alert students to the program, but until the state gets back to us, we can’t tell them how to apply.

First option better than just saying “coming soon”? Add a date. Simply saying “information on the application process will be released by May 15, 2020” creates a whole different impression of the page. But what about when there’s no date?

A good option is to use that opportunity to drive people to another communications channel: “We’re currently waiting for application information from the state. Follow us on Twitter to be updated as soon as application information becomes available.” As an alternative to social media, this could be a great time to get an email list going, which you can repurpose later to promote other programs.

Sometimes that won’t be appropriate either. As a last resort, at least add a note about when someone should check back: “As of April 27th, we are yet to receive application information from the state. We will post an updated message here by May 11th.” Then you can keep updating that message, even just to tell people that you still don’t know anything new. Not only does that help to demonstrate to the visitor that there will actually be information here, it forces you to remember to actually go back and update the page.

Coming soon messages happen with new pages too. Someone will be thinking about how to redesign their site, and they’ll create some empty pages as placeholders, or they’ll be thinking about some cool new feature on their site. Except then something doesn’t work out, or some more pressing task comes up, and we end up with a page that just says “Coming soon”.

Solution? Always have your content ready first. We’ll actually be adopting this rule as a policy going forward for the web team. While we’ll be happy to talk with you about what a webpage could look like, we won’t actually create the page until you can show us some content first.

Over the next week or two, expect some nastygrams from Lori or me as we try to clean up some of these content gaps. And if you’re having trouble trying to think around a difficult “coming soon” situation, let us know. We’d love to help.

Let’s talk about FAQ Pages

As part of our website redesign, over the last two months I’ve visited each and every page on the Lane website. As part of that process, we’ve cut a lot of pages, and at just 3413 nodes, the Lane website is now smaller and more svelte than it was when we launched it back in 2011 (and that includes more than 100 nodes that aren’t even real pages!).

But also as part of that process, I discovered that there were two categories of pages that had a lot of pages, and a lot of good information, but not necessarily a lot of value.

The first was contact pages. By convention, we try to have a page, usually located at a url like, which contains contact information for a department. This is an important page, and the way we structured things was an attempt to bring some standardization to the Lane website. But it also resulted in duplicate information (contact information is sometimes on the department homepage, and some departments also created employee directory pages). We’ll likely to contact pages differently next time around.

The second chunk was frequently asked questions pages. There are probably forty or fifty pages on the website that are full of FAQs. And while often the information in them is helpful, just by presenting that information in the FAQ format we may be making it less likely students will find and understand what we need to tell them.

For a good overview of why FAQ pages can be less helpful than other  content, you should read this A List Apart article. A brief summary of  issues:

  • Duplicate content – many times information on a FAQ is contained elsewhere
  • Lack of order – FAQ content doesn’t tend to flow question to question, making it harder to understand and process
  • Repetitive structure – since all the content gets phrased as questions, you’re often introducing extra words to the page that get repetitive to read
  • Increased cognitive load – often a student will come to your page with a specific question, phrased differently from how you’ve asked it, resulting in increased processing to determine if your question matches their question

I also think FAQs are problematic for people that aren’t searching for an answer to a specific question. If you’re just exploring a site, trying to determine if a program is for you then a FAQ often fails to guide you through content in a meaningful way.

If you happen to be stuck at home with some time to do website edits, one thing that would be really helpful is working on your FAQ page. Here’s my suggestions for slimming down, or dumping, your FAQ:

  1. Read through your questions, and make sure you still feel like each question is important. If one isn’t important, remove it. You might be surprised by how much old content is out there.
  2. Find any questions in your FAQ that have answers elsewhere, whether on your site or another page on our website, and get rid of them. Reducing duplicate content is possibly the most helpful thing we can do. We’ve found that many people have tried to be helpful by copying content from elsewhere on the website, ostensibly to simplify things for their audience, but almost always this ends up making the website bigger and more confusing.
  3. Find any FAQ questions that are related to some other page on your site, and incorporate them into the content on that page. For instance, if you have a question like “What prerequisite courses do I need to take before applying to this program?”, consider moving that content to your program application page under a heading “Required Prerequisite Courses”
  4. Are there any groups of questions that are related, and which could be combined into just a paragraph or two of more effective content, either on a new page, or as a new section on an existing one?

After all that, you may still be left with some FAQ questions which just don’t fit in anywhere. And that’s ok. Sometimes a FAQ provides the right solution. But even just shortening the length of your FAQ page can help students to better find information and improve the quality of your other pages.

As always, if you’re working on something like an FAQ and have a question, send us an email at

Posts that spark joy

The other day, I saw this blog post about tidying up your website using the Marie Kondo method. While I think peak Kondo-mania is likely behind us (unless she’s renewed for a second season, of course!), as our date for content migration approaches (probably late this upcoming spring!), that post got me thinking about how her tidying principles can help provide a good frame for tidying and improving websites here at Lane. There are six principles:

Commit yourself to tidying up

Like any other tidying project, working on cleaning up your website is going to take some time. The most Kondo-like advice, of course, is to carve out an entire afternoon. But at the very least, try to find a regular time to dedicate to tidying your website and cleaning out the ROT. Even an hour every other week is enough time to make a considerable impact.

Imagine your ideal lifestyle

If you spend a minute imagining what your dream website would look like, I’d be willing to bet a lot of your dreaming is related to the look and feel of the website. Don’t get me wrong, website appearance is important. But design alone is never enough to capture, retain, or influence an audience. As you imagine your dream website, I’d encourage you to think first about what your website goals. What specific behaviors are you trying to influence through your content? What actions are you trying to get visitors to take?

The Lane website has a surprising number of pages that aren’t really about getting anyone to do anything, but are instead about documenting internal processes, documenting old projects, or displaying mandatory information. Some of this is unavoidable. Our privacy statement isn’t about to be tidied up. But imagine a page that’s just a photo gallery. They may be compelling photos in that gallery. But because they’re buried in a gallery on their own, no one is going to find that page and take the time to look through the photos. Instead, choose some outstanding pictures and work them directly into your content. If you really need to have a gallery, use a dedicated photo site (like your Lane Google Photos account), and link to it.

As you imagine, try to think about how all the pieces of your online presence – photo, video, social, and copy – support each other and to tell a compelling story and influence an action. Think about how you can show, rather than tell.

Finish discarding first

Our largest pieces of the site have over 130 pages, and hundreds of attached files. Not only can that seem overwhelming, but thinking about all that content can make your head spin. By discarding first (even just a sentence here or there!), you’ll get a better understanding of your content and where the gaps are, and maybe spot some opportunities to combine pages into one, more cohesive page.

Tidy by category, not location

The advice in that blog post is spot 0n – don’t just think about if you need this particular page, think about if you need all the pages like that. So, for instance, don’t just think about if you need a page describing Underwater Basket Weaving 201, which hasn’t been run in three years. Think about if you need pages describing your Underwater Basket Weaving courses at all – after all, the course descriptions should be in the catalog, which got a pretty spiffy update this year.

Follow the right order

One of the Google Analytics reports we’re happy to provide you is a page popularity report. For each of your pages, we can help you discover how many times it was viewed, how many times it was viewed by different people, how long they were on that page, and if it was their first or last page. I’d recommend you use these reports from the bottom up: start with your least popular pages. Since you already know they’re not being seen as often as you probably wish they were, you already know they need to change. Look elsewhere on your site to see if there’s a place they can fit in or, even better, see if you can get rid of them entirely. You can email Lori or me for help getting one of those reports.

Find joy

This one is complicated. Because the web isn’t your house, and how much a page brings you joy isn’t really the goal. The real goals relate to helping increase access to education and helping students meet their educational objectives. So find joy in what that page does, and in the goals it helps accomplish. If you can’t relate that page to a goal, thank it for it service, and say goodbye.


Writing for Readability and SEO

This is the last post in a series about rewriting content. Though you’re welcome to read it by itself, you might want to read the first four posts first: One, Two, Three, and Four.

Now that we’ve fixed our page so that it’s easier to read, we need to make sure it’s easy to find. When we talk about making things easy to find, we really mean making them easy to find by Google, as more people find our content on the website via Google than they do any other source. Writing easy to find content is one aspect of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

Writing for SEO

Soon, we’ll be adding a new tool to the Drupal edit interface to help you perform a keyword analysis. To use it, you’ll simply edit a page, then scroll all the way to the bottom:

The Drupal content analysis box

After we turn it on, if your user has the correct role, you’ll see that Content analysis tab. Let’s start with doing a Quick SEO analysis, and put a phrase in the box. I’ll use “Where to print”, since that’s something I think people might google to find out where to print. Then click the button.

Content Analysis Results page

Your results will pop over the page, and be very hard to miss. But don’t worry – if you accidentally close that popover, the results will still be in the page. Let’s look at each of the sections in the results.

Page Title – The title is probably the most important place to put important keywords, but it’s important not to make it too long. Our current title is “TitanPrint”. That’s also something that people might google, especially as we try to message out about TitanPrint. So I’m ok with it, and we’ll leave this alone.

Body – The body is the second best place to put your important keywords and phrases. We’re missing my phrase entirely. So I should probably fix that. Let’s rework the second to last sentence:

You can use your print allocation at locations around campus.

And instead we can write:

Curious where to print? View print locations to across campus.

And of course we’ll link print locations to to the proper page.

Meta Keywords – We don’t use these. They’re generally ignored.

Meta Description – When you search for something, Google helpfully tries to use a snippet of the page to give you a preview of what’s on the page. If you’re finding that snippet to be unhelpful, you can enter a description that Google may use instead. If you’d like to enter one, check under the “Optional Fields” tab at the bottom of the page, and fill out the Search Engine Summary field.


In the popover, there was another tab labeled readability, which provides a series of different reading level scores. Depending on your content these may vary wildly, so it’s usually best to just use the average.

The reading level content analysis interface

Our reading level has an average of 8.3 – pretty close to what HemingwayApp told us. This interface isn’t as friendly as HemingwayApp, and doesn’t provide live feedback, but it saves you a lot of copying and pasting, so we encourage you to give it a try.

That’s it!

We’re almost done testing content analysis, so hopefully by the time you read this post you’ll be able to use it. If you have any trouble finding it, or using any of the tools we’ve covered in these posts, please, please, please contact us at and we’ll help you out. Also don’t hesitate to contact us for additional help with SEO – we have a bunch of information from Google Analytics that we’d be happy to share.

And be on the lookout for some upcoming sessions where we rework some content together, live, in person. Keep checking the announcements box on the Drupal dashboard right after you log in.

Hard Sentences & Tone

Need a review? Check out parts one, two, or three first.

While we’ve made some big improvements, our page still sounds institutional and still has some pretty complex sentences in it. Let’s start in HemingwayApp (here’s the text, if you’d like to follow along)  and check out our list of things to be concerned about:

  • 6 hard to read sentences
  • 2 very hard to read sentences
  • 5 uses of passive voice

Let’s do the very hard to read sentences first, since they’re our biggest problem. Here’s the first:

Print jobs are sent from workstations in these labs or your computer to a print release station, a print cloud, or directly to a machine, where jobs are released and paid for using your TitanPrint credits.

Usually when HemingwayApp finds something complex it’s because of the number of ideas expressed. Let’s break this sentence up:

Print jobs are sent from workstations in these labs or your computer to a print release station, a print cloud, or directly to a machine. Jobs are then released and paid for using your TitanPrint credits.

Fixed! On to the next one:

Once your print allocation is used, you must add funds to your TitanPrint account to continue printing by using a credit card or a print card purchased from the Titan Store.

Again, we see there’s two distinct ideas here. The first is that once your credits are gone you’ll need to add more to continue printing. The second is that you can add credits either online or at the TitanStore. So let’s split this sentence as well:

Once your print allocation is used, you must add funds to your TitanPrint account to continue printing. Funds can be added with a credit card or a print card purchased from the Titan Store.

No more very hard sentences, and we’re down to grade 8! Let’s tackle some of the merely hard sentences:

When you print a document from your lab computer, or laptop on the campus network, your print is routed to the nearest available printer.

can be simplified to:

When you print a document, your print is routed to the nearest available printer.

We lose a little bit of information here, because we’re not explicitly saying a computer must be on the network, but many students won’t understand what that means anyway, and the idea that printing needs to be done from campus is implied.

If you are in a heavy traffic location you will then need to release your job by logging into your TitanPrint account.

can be simplified to:

If printers are busy, you may need to release your job by logging into your TitanPrint account.

And this:

Color printing costs $.25 (twenty-five cents) per side of paper (resulting in $.495 per page if duplex / double sided).

can be simplified to:

Color printing costs $.25 per page ($.495 if double sided).

To make sure the decimal point is seen, we should write $0.25 and $0.495. So let’s fix that too. This next sentence:

Once your print allocation is used, you must add funds to your TitanPrint account to continue printing.

can be simplified to:

If you run out of credits, you must add funds to your TitanPrint account to continue printing.

Together, that gets us down to a 7th grade reading level – pretty close to our target. Let’s take a look at passive voice sentences (note that the above fixes fixed one of those for us too). If you’re not familiar with passive voice, here’s two sentences:

  1. “I’m going to throw the ball across the room.”
  2. “The ball is going to be thrown across the room.”

The second is clearly a much weaker sentence, but it’s the type of detached writing that’s often seen in academic journals. We want to avoid it wherever we can, because it’s boring to read.

The easiest to fix is “Funds can be added…”. Let’s have the reader perform the action, and instead say “You can add funds…”

Although that technically gets us under the suggested limit for passive voice use, let’s fix one more thing:

You will be charged $.07 (seven cents) per side of paper with a $.005 discount for duplex printing. Color printing costs $.25 per page ($.495 if double sided).

The troublesome part is “will be”, but we can do more than just fix passive voice here. Let’s make those two sentences work together a little better:

Each black and white page costs $0.07 per page, while color printing costs $0.25 per page. Double sided (duplex) pages receive a half cent discount per page.

While we’ve made some big improvements, our page still sounds a little institutional. So let’s look at the tone, using a Tone Analyzer. Go ahead and paste our text directly into the box and click Analyze.

Right now our text is 73% social and 26% writing tone. Writing tone is a little more formal. In our case, the words that are causing the Writing tone are Tentative and Analytical – not necessarily good things. Where possible, we should strive for text that’s friendly, almost conversational, but authoritative. That sort of tone is my goal in these posts – we’re having a conversation, but I’m trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

The bottom half of the tone analyzer has some suggestions on how you can adjust your text. You can try clicking on some of the words to see suggestions. I didn’t find the suggested words very helpful here, but it did make clear that the reason we sound tentative is because we keep having these hesitant sentences – things like “if” and “or” that make it seem like we’re never confident in what we write.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about that, due to the nature of what we’re writing about. But we can make our page sound a little more conversational by adding contractions. Just a simple change like “you are” to “you’re” helps make the text seem less academic. Don’t over do it, of course – the first time I catch a “y’all” in one of our pages, I’ll be less than happy to say the least – but try to write how you talk.

After all those changes, I ran through the text one more time, finding more ways to reduce the length of our content. That includes restructuring the first two paragraphs, so that the first one introduces TitanPrint, while the second one provides a high level overview of how it works. And now that our sentences are simpler, it’s easy to remove the last pair of adverbs. Here’s our final result:

Print Final

And, of course, our final text.

To summarize:

  • Split complex sentences up. It will say the same thing, but be easier to read.
  • To keep your sentences interesting, avoid using the passive voice

If you’re really passionate about language, you’re probably tempted to keep going, and keep rewriting. Believe me, I understand. This page is at least two grade levels higher than I’d like. There’s another dozen changes to make. But there’s a lot of other pages to work on, and writing on the web is all about maximizing the use of our time.

Next time, in the last post of this series, we’ll talk a little bit about writing for Search Engine Optimization and take a quick preview of some of the tools we’ll be introducing soon to help you write better right within Drupal.

Simplifying the Text

Need a quick review? Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Last post I mentioned that we’d be using HemingwayApp to make some improvements to our page. First, a quick overview of some features of HemingwayApp. On the right, there’s basic statistics about our page. If you plug in the text from the page (and you should! This post will make a lot more sense if you follow along!), you’ll see that there’s 355 words at a grade 12 reading level. Just below that, color coded to help you find them, are some things to avoid:

  • 3 hard to read sentences
  • 8 very hard to read sentences
  • 3 phrases with simpler alternatives
  • 3 adverbs
  • 8 uses of passive voice

Before we set about tackling them all, let’s first see if we can’t reduce the overall number of words. There’s a basic rule of thumb in editing (from an excellent book!) that says 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. We’re at 355 words now, let’s get down to below 319. Please forgive my touchpad picture editing skills!

Page with some words crossed out

If you’re following along, you can copy the text from here, or you can make the edits yourself.

With just those edits HemingwayApp says we’re at 305 words at an 11th grade reading level. That’s a pretty big improvement already, and we haven’t changed the content of the page at all. We’ve also improved on the list of things to look out for:

  • 3 hard to read sentences
  • 6 very hard to read sentences (down from 8)
  • 2 phrases with simpler alternatives (down from 3)
  • 3 adverbs
  • 6 uses of passive voice (down from 8)

Rather than tackle those in order, let’s pick the low hanging fruit. Adverbs are usually easy to deal with, so we’ll start there.

Adverbs can be a great way to clarify meaning, but they’re often just filler words (students looking to make their essays longer rejoice!). Look at the phrase “your print will automatically be routed” – HemingwayApp wants us to eliminate automatically, and it’s right – that word doesn’t help us at all, so we should cut it. The other two adverbs are both the word “directly’, which we’ll keep for now, since in both places it provides some clarification.

On to the simpler alternatives suggestions. Mouse over each one (they’re in purple) to see what HemingwayApp suggests. They’re not all great suggestions, but “many departmental computer labs” is better than “a number of the departmental computer labs” and “Or” is simpler than “Alternatively”. Just like that, we’re at Grade 10. We now have 0 phrases with simpler alternatives, we’re under the suggested limit for adverbs, and we’ve reduced the number of very hard to read sentences.

We’ve made quite a few changes, so let’s go through and make sure everything reads right. This time we’re looking for tense, voice, and flow. We want to make sure sentences in the same paragraph use the same tense, since its difficult reading when one sentence talks about something in the present, and the next talks about something in the past.

With voice, we want to be consistent. Right now it’s a mix of 2nd person (“You will”) and 3rd person (“The student will”). We don’t have a hard rule about when to use each, but you definitely don’t want to mix them. Since we want our page to be conversational, let’s use 2nd person.

Last we’ll look for flow. Do the sentences and paragraphs all sound good together? Does it sound like it was written by one person? Does it feel right? This is also a good time to make sure we’re using appropriate vocabulary (like “term” instead of “quarter”).

Doing the whole page in a blog post would be very boring, so I’ll use this example paragraph:

TitanPrint is a printing service available to all enrolled students at Lane Community College. TitanPrint provides students the use of several printers and copiers both color and black and white in computer labs, the Library, and many departmental computer labs.

First, let’s switch this to use 2nd person.

TitanPrint is a printing service available to you as an enrolled student at Lane Community College. TitanPrint provides you the use of several printers and copiers both color and black and white in computer labs, the Library, and many departmental computer labs.

Now we need to fix the second sentence, which is very difficult (it’s highlighted pink in HemingwayApp). “…color and back and white…” is a very complex phrase, so we’ll first cut that. We’re not losing anything, because color options are addressed further down the page. Then, we’ll simplify the locations, since there’s no reason to list all the locations here when the locations are also listed on the Print Locations page, linked at the bottom of this page. That leaves us with this:

TitanPrint is a printing service available to you as an enrolled student at Lane Community College. TitanPrint provides you the use of several printers and copiers across campus.

Rewriting for those three things helped me to eliminate a passive voice use and cut quite a few more words. Some of those words included the instructional text about using your L Number and passphrase on the account page. Though you can’t see it, that’s actually repetitive, since the account login screen provides the same text. Here’s the fully rewritten page, applying changes like those I made to the first paragraph:

Page at the end of this post

And the complete text for it.

We’re down to 281 words, and at just a 9th grade reading level – a substantial improvement.

To summarize:

  • Avoid adverbs
  • Use consistent tense and voice
  • Make sure your content flows together
  • Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite
  • Shoot for at least a 10% reduction in your word count on your second draft
  • Use tools to help you rewrite – many of your mistakes are going to be invisible to you as the author otherwise.

Finding our Page & Some Quick Fixes

As mentioned in the last post, we’re going to fix one of the 5800 pages on the website. The page we’re working is on loan to us from the fine folks in charge of print management.

Before you work on any web page, you want to make sure you understand the purpose of the page. First, a quick overview of how printing works at Lane. Each student receives a certain amount of money for printing. After that money is gone, students add more money to their account if they need to print more. So the purpose of this page is to help people find printers, learn what printing costs, and to add money to their accounts.

Alright, so let’s look at the existing landing page:

The current print landing page
Currently we’re at 357 words at a Grade 12 reading level – ouch.

You may have noticed the text in that picture was a little small (you can read the entire text here if you’d like). But there’s advantages to small text like this. You and I are highly motivated readers. After all, this is “our” page, and we’re going to pay attention to every little detail. But our actual readers aren’t motivated. In fact, they’re likely to skim in an F shaped pattern, reading as little as is reasonable. When the text is small, we’re forced to skip over the text and focus on the bigger picture (you can zoom out on any page by pressing ctrl-minus on a PC, or cmd-minus on a Mac).

What catches your eye on that page?

My eye goes straight to that huge orange button on the right hand side. That button is the Call to Action (CTA) for this page. If at all possible, you want to make sure your page always has a CTA. It doesn’t need to be a giant button like this, it could just be a link with some white space to make it stand out. This page makes a reasonable assumption that the majority of visitors are looking to recharge their print accounts.

What catches your eye next?

I don’t know about you, but I see the a variant of TitanPrint written no less than 5 times in big, huge letters.
Print Landing Page with TitanPrint - this includes text that wasn't in the previously linked text, which did not include menus
There’s some circumstances when that’s ok, but in this case it’s unnecessary. Let’s get rid of a few. First to go? The one on top of the box in the top right corner – that button can stand by itself. Second? The orange one at the top of the page. Let’s instead replace it with with the first sentence of the first paragraph: “Welcome to printing at Lane Community College”. But let’s also get rid of “Welcome to” – using “Welcome to” on any web page usually ends up feeling superficial rather than friendly.

Picture of the landing page with suggestions incorporated
And that’s as far as we’re going with this post. So, to summarize:

  • Know the purpose of this page
  • Make sure your page has a Call to Action that meets that purpose
  • Make sure to take a step back from your page and see how it looks

Next up we’ll use HemingwayApp to make some quick edits to the page text.