Saving the world, making content readable and how to upset a copywriter: what I learnt in February

A selection of playing cards from the SDG2030 Game.

A selection of playing cards from the SDG2030 Game.

The most exciting thing that happened here in February was the final part of Didcot A power station (the chimney) being demolished. I didn’t go out to watch it because of the storms but it was captured on video by Reading-based Drone Motion. But as usual I’ve been reading, learning and thinking: I hope some of it will be useful or interesting for you, too.

Things I’ve learnt this month

1. “What does it take to save the World?”

Well, I didn’t exactly find that out: it was the title of a workshop organised by the Global Academy, an Oxford-based organisation researching the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I’m familiar with the concept of the SDGs as some of my clients work in the area of sustainable development, but the event made me think about them in a different way. This was because we were playing a game. The 2030s SDG Game, which originated in Japan, helps you learn by doing. I won’t tell you what I found out because that’s the point of the game (no spoilers) but if you get a chance to do the workshop I’d recommend it.

2. How to make web content more readable

The new Readability Guidelines Handbook from Content Design London is a great resource. It’s the result of an ongoing crowdsourced project to produce evidence-based style guide for websites. In some cases, such as “Use numerals instead of words”, it contradicts traditional print style guide advice. But it always gives a reason, based on usability evidence and academic research.  As Sarah Richards says in the introduction, style decisions don’t have to be based on hunches or personal preferences any more: they should be “based on accessibility, usability and inclusive design”.

There was a lot here that I knew already, but it’s good to have it backed up with evidence. And I found out a few things, such as how screen readers deal with punctuation.

A page from the Readability Guidelines book, with the words: "Following this helps: everyone".

Recommended reading

We all like a good laugh at workplace jargon, and Dan Slee has put together an impressive list of public sector euphemisms.

They’re mostly phrases for internal use, but he’s also cheated a bit and included some that politicians use when talking to the general public such as “leveling up”. And in his weekly email, he talks about Yes, Minister, saying that “Sir Humphrey Appleby was the first user of public sector idioms I’d ever came across.” He adds that “Is that wise, Minister?” and “How brave!” are both code for: “that’s a stupid idea.”

Internal language in corporate settings is (usually) slightly different, and surfaced in a Vulture article about “garbage language”.

You might think from the jokey illustrations that it’s another list of things to laugh at, but actually it’s a beautifully written long read about the culture of corporate-speak, where “the primary unit of meaning was the abstract metaphor”.

Interestingly, this article also mentions “leveling up”, including it in the list of computing and gaming metaphors introduced by “the rise of big tech”.

Tweet of the month

Freelance writer Sian Meades-Williams wrote: “Genuinely astonished at the contempt this content company has for freelance writers. The freelance writers I know and work with are talented, inspiring and work damn hard.”

Screenshot of tweet, with the words "Genuinely astonished at the contempt this content company has for freelance writers. The freelance writers I know and work with are talented, inspiring and work damn hard."

Her link to the company, whose selling point seems to be that other freelance writers are rubbish,  sparked a long Twitter thread of disgruntled professional writers. It turned out that the company is a bunch of chums from a creative writing course at Cambridge university who are a bit naïve about copywriting, so maybe we should cut them a bit of slack. But the Twitter thread is a great insight into why you should hire a freelance writer, and the pride we all have in doing a good job.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Content, Content design, Freelancing, Websites, Writing