Focus on a specific audience
Before you start writing, have a clear idea of the people you’re trying to reach. Are they parents? Family child care providers? Stakeholders? If you are attempting to write for everyone, your content may be too general to resonate with anyone.
Have a clear main message
Decide on the one essential thing you want your audience to remember after reading your content. That’s your main message. State it clearly right at the top. Then use it to guide how you develop the rest of your content.
Stick to what’s essential
Once you know your audience and main message, think more about why people are reading your content. What answers have they come to find? Don’t write down everything you know about the subject, only what your audience needs to know. If it’s not essential, cut it.
Keep it simple
Plain language gets a bad rap. Some may dismiss it as “dumbing down” language, but clarity is an ethical imperative. Users should be able to understand what you’ve written the first time they read it. Most people are moving quickly or looking for something specific and don’t have time to waste. Everyone wants content that’s concise and clear.
When you’re creating OEC content, write like you’d talk to someone.
- Use everyday language — e.g., say “help” instead of “assist” and “use” instead of “utilize”
- Address the reader as “you” and refer to OEC as “we”
- Use contractions like “won’t” and “can’t”
Readability scores like the Flesch-Kincaid formula in Microsoft Word are far from perfect, but as a rule of thumb, we expect that OEC content will be 8th grade or below. One easy way to estimate the reading level of your copy is to use the Hemingway Editor.
To learn more about plain language principles, check out plainlanguage.gov.
Keep it brief
The longer your content gets, the less likely your reader is going to stick with you. That’s especially true for mobile users reading on a tiny screen. Aim to follow these guidelines:
- Sentences: No more than 15 to 20 words
- Paragraphs: No more than 2 to 3 sentences
Structure your content
Users don’t read, they skim. Make it easy for them to find what they need by structuring your content clearly and logically.
- Put the most important information first
- Break your content into chunks
- Use clear, consistent headings (see Headings in Formatting section)
- Use lists (with bullet points or numbers) to break down big blocks of information (see Lists in Formatting section)