Almost all UX experts agree brevity is the key when writing for web application. Short and brief language is essential for quick organizational comprehension as well as improved captivation. Brevity is especially important when the language in question is used for navigational or actionable purposes. Web professionals typically have no problem dealing with this concept. But we need to explain this concept in layman’s terms when working with clients, content providers or architects who feel they need to describe everything the long way. Those with less experience with the web are typically the worst offenders. They tend to spell out everything and write as much as possible to get the point across. The usual response to this from web professionals is typically “no one reads all that on the web”, “need to be right to the point” or something along those lines. But that still doesn’t explain why no one reads or why it needs to be brief. We need to be able to persuasively explain the why.
Writing for web application is like writing for road signs. Imagine a sign in the intersection that reads “You can not make a turn while the light is red. You can make a turn only when the light is green.” While there isn’t anything wrong with the statement itself, it is not appropriate for the context in which it is used. Safe flow of the traffic is largely dependent on drivers making the right decisions usually within seconds approaching the matter. A simple 4-word “No turn on red” contains everything a driver needs to know at that second. Any activity on the web like driving is surrounded by distractions even within a given application. We are dealing with very short span of attention. We need to captivate, instruct or guide using as few words as possible. Imagine, instead of “Merge Left”, the sign read “If you are in the right lane, please be prepared to merge into the left lane.” Not only it’s needlessly long, it will simply be ineffective because very few would actually have time to read and respond.
Among seasoned UX and web professionals, the age of “Click here to do this…” certainly have come and gone. However, the bad habits of the early web still lingers on in more places than you may realize. And I think this traffic sign metaphor could be a simple and effective way to convince why we need to write for the web the way we do.