6 simple ways to make your intranet content more readable

If in-house readership is down, it might be due to a few simple stylistic issues—not the quality of your writing. Make a few of these simple formatting fixes and see whether readership improves.

If your intranet is difficult to use, your organization’s bottom line will suffer.

However, there is another component of intranet usability that many communicators don’t consider: your content’s appearance.

Can people easily read and process your content, or do they give up and watch the latest “Star Wars” trailer for the umpteenth time instead?

The dreaded wall of text

Almost everyone can say that at one time or another, while searching for information, they’ve encountered a wall of text—a page of content that seems to scroll forever. There’s paragraph after paragraph with no differentiation—no headers, lists, links, bolded words or anything to give the reader any indication of hierarchy or importance.

The wall of text sort of looks like the opening credits of “Star Wars,” except there’s no movie that follows. It’s just a text crawl that goes on forever.

Of course the author thinks it’s all important information, but I have news for you: Your intranet users won’t read every word you write.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Take Jakob Neilsen’s (the principal of Nielsen Norman Group) word for it. A Nielsen Norman Group study found that users scan content instead of reading it:

  • At least 79 percent of users scan content.
  • Users read 25 percent slower when looking at a screen versus paper.
  • People read only 28 percent of the words on a page.

We see these statistics in action in the eye-tracking image below. Users will scan paragraphs’ first lines, then skip down the page to search for content relevant to their needs. They look for signposts such as headings, links, lists and bolded words to identify what’s important.

So, what have we learned?

1. Make information easy to scan.

You’re not writing a novel. Organize your content so it’s readable on a screen. Users read more slowly when looking at a screen, and your content shouldn’t look like a book.

2. Make sure people can read your text.

This seems obvious, but the text has to be legible. Is the font large enough? Is there a contrast between the text and page background?

Poor contrast creates work for the reader. Make sure that people can read without straining. You don’t want them to expend effort reading your content, but processing your content.

3. Break text into small chunks.

Readers want you to break information into digestible amounts. Large chunks of unbroken text causes readers to lose their place, especially when they’re scrolling. This forces them to reread to find and understand information-if they don’t give up and stop reading altogether.

This is bad intranet usability. The more time it takes your staff to complete a task on the intranet, the more it costs your organization.

4. Provide clear headings.

Headings should always be clear and direct. They provide context and indicate what the following content is about. Headings also provide an understanding of the content’s flow.

When I say your headings should be clear, I mean they should visually appealing as well as easy to understand. Headings should be in a larger font than the body copy so they stand out. If you do it well, you can also make the headings a different color from the body copy. Use white space to separate headings from the rest of the text, as well.

You can also make headings bold, which leads me to…

5. Reserve text highlighting for headings and keywords.

Don’t haphazardly bold or italicize words.

Sometimes writers feel the need to emphasize multiple words and phrases to the point that the content can become a MESS.

When you highlight everything, you emphasize nothing.

Reading text with heavy formatting is also difficult and irritating. It makes readers feel that you’re yelling at them.

6. Differentiate links.

Links are important for connecting content on your intranet. For people to effectively use hyperlinks, you must differentiate them from the rest of the content.

There are a number of ways to do this: Make them bold, underlined or a different color from the rest of the copy. Just make sure readers can easily see them.

Also, make sure all hyperlinks look the same. Sometimes organizations will make them blue in one area of the intranet and red in another, or sometimes even the same color as the body copy. This is confusing and forces readers to think harder than they should. Be consistent.

Also make sure to provide a “visited” color for links. Having a unique visited color helps users remember what they’ve already clicked. It’s a small detail, but it can be a big help to readers.

7. Prioritize information.

Prioritize your information, and make the most important information the most visible. Why does your page exist? What are your main points? Make sure your readers can answer these questions by:

  • Including a summary of the content at the top of the page.
  • Putting your main points in the headers.
  • Placing your main points near the top of the page.
  • Making your main points stand out (see below).

Tip: If you have an important piece of information, style it differently from the rest of your content so it stands out. (See what I did there?)

Poor intranet usability extends beyond navigation to your content’s appearance. I hope these practices will improve your content and increase your intranet’s engagement.

Cam Dred has been a professional graphic designer in the technology industry for more than 16 years. A version of this article originally appeared on Intranet Connections.

(Image via)

This story first appeared on Ragan.com in Dec. 2015.


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