Bellbird : Sue Bell's blog

What user testing teaches us about work voice

Work voice is one of the main reasons why users do not read content. When users see content written in work voice they will skim read; understand less than they read, and feel confused about your brand.

What is your work voice?

Work voice is the writing style you use when you are writing formally to colleagues, your boss, or the regulator. It  is not the one that you would normally use with your friends and family, or your neighbour.  It should not be the voice you use when writing to your users.

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Is your content full of jargon? 

If your content is full of jargon, you are at risk of 

  1. Creating unnecessary effort for your users and customers.
  2. Limiting how much they understand, and 
  3. Disengaging them

"Jargon disrupts people’s ability to fluently process scientific information, even when definitions for  the jargon terms are provided. ....... Research shows the less work audiences need to put into reading, the more they will find sources credible, and the better they will connect with the messages. " *

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Reading and the psychology of motivation 

Reading is a voluntary activity that people can start to do if they want to. They can also stop reading any time - even mid sentence.  Although we tend to think of reading as somehow different from other forms of behaviour, many psychological concepts still apply. One of those is motivation and goal orientation.

Reading and motivation

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Lessons learned from testing written content with users

Over many years, I have tested written content on a diverse range of topics such as cycling safety, exchange-traded funds, denied insurance claims, superannuation fees and charges, and making a will. I have watched how people read letters, landing pages, statements and brochures and how they filled in forms. From this experience, I have learned how people actually read.

User testing shows when people skim read or stop reading

Content creators are often advised to write for skim readers who navigate via headings.  In my experience, this is only partly true. It depends on how familiar the content is to them - or rather how familiar it seems and what they presume they need to do after reading it.

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What do people want when they ask for sustainable products or investments? 

If you are a researcher, marketer, communications specialist or product developer you may be wondering how to make sense of what seem to be competing trends in sustainability.

Our research has shown that the first step is to realise that what people mean by sustainability is probably different from what you mean.

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What user testing teaches us about writing for readers under stress

I recently came across an article about long sentences in government advice about COVID 19.  The article was in The Conversation. The authors argued that 'Most government information on COVID-19 is too hard for the average Australian to understand.'  The authors correctly identified complex sentences like this: 

"Phase 3 will be subject to health advice, but will focus on continuing to build stronger links within the community and include further resumption of commercial and recreational activities."

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Do you ever say "does that make sense?"

If you don't say it yourself, do you hear it said? 

A few years ago, I kept noticing how often I said it, and how often I heard it said. It got me thinking. We all know what 'makes sense' means, but somehow these words are missing from the typical researcher lexicon. Researchers talk about 'decisions', 'choices', 'motives,' 'drives', 'needs' and 'attitudes'. When I looked around, no researcher was talking about 'making sense' even though it is a phrase we use in our everyday lives all the time. 

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