Urgent communications must still be user-friendly

Urgent communications must still be user-friendly

March 19, 2020

If you have an email address, you’ve recently received an email from every single company that has access to that email address, telling you what actions they are taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re like me, you haven’t read very many of those emails from start to finish. (You may have also identified this as an opportunity to go on a massive “unsubscribe” binge — silver lining!)

It’s not that I’m disinterested in what the emails have to say. I’m genuinely curious what some companies are doing to prioritize my health and the health of their employees. Rather, I can’t be bothered to read continuous blocks of unformatted text that cause my eyes to glaze over. Walls of text tell your users,

We don’t think your time is valuable, and we don’t care about user experience.

Research from Nielsen Norman Group shows that people read online differently than they read print. Online, people read more slowly, and they tend to scan or skim to find what they want to read more closely. Writing effectively for screens increases reader comprehension and improves user experience. It’s as easy as keeping these tips in mind:

  1. Put the most important words and points first. People pay more attention to the first few words in a sentence and the first few paragraphs on a page.
  2. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and precise.
  3. Use simple language free of jargon, technical terms, and words with many syllables.
  4. Proofread to build trust. Spelling and grammar errors suggest spam.
  5. Bold important words and use bulleted lists to help people scan.

Ironically, we’re particularly likely to drone on when time is of the essence. French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, famously wrote,

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

Urgent communication strategies naturally need to be devised quickly, but the experience you create for your audience will have lasting effects. As I wrote a few months back, user experience encompasses all interactions someone has with your company, and it’s everybody’s job. So before you send out that next time-sensitive communication, spend a few extra minutes editing it to be a little more screen-friendly. Your users will thank you — and retain more of what you have to say.