Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

Posts By: John Fox

Editorial style never goes out of fashion

📥  Communication, Style, content and design

Keeping it stylish

We editors like to keep ourselves in style. I'm not saying we're obsessed with the sartorial (although we do enjoy a nice cable-knit jumper), just that we like to make sure we're following and updating our Editorial style guide. These are the guidelines that help us, and other content creators, keep the website's content clear and consistent.

Clarity for us means making our content accessible to all (including those using screen readers and translation tools) and writing in plain English by avoiding jargon and idioms in our marketing, PR and informative content. This isn't 'dumbing down', it's writing so that everyone can understand it without losing the meaning.

Consistency is about giving the user a smooth journey through the site. The importance of this (or a warm wool jumper) should not be underestimated. If you visit a website and every page has a different colour scheme and layout, you'll probably be a bit confused. You might even think you've accidently jumped to a different site. In the same way, inconsistent writing styles can have a jarring effect on the user and make their experience confusing. Imagine thinking you're in cable knit only to look down and see a string vest. Not pleasant.

Having a consistent writing style also helps us create our online identity. When we consistently use the same words, and specifically the same meanings for words, users can recognise us more easily in a crowded internet. Our writing style is our identity, like a jumper you'd wear all the time that everyone agrees is 'very you'.

What we're wearing this season

The problem with our cable-knit jumper is that it's a bit bulky. A tad cumbersome. Also, it makes our neck itch, but that's nothing to do with the style guide. The jumper needs reknitting into one that's easier to wear, lighter, with detachable arms perhaps. And now I'm stretching it. The metaphor, not the jumper.

The Editorial style guide is similarly unwieldy. It's currently one page, arranged in sections like 'General style preferences' and 'University references'. As full of useful information as it is, you really have to know where to look to find what you want. In many cases, you have to search the page for a specific word, hoping it pulls up the right results.

From a maintenance point of view, this structure makes it difficult to add or amend the content. We have to fit it into one of the existing sections or create a new one, making it harder for users to work out where they should look for answers. Some things need more detailed explanations, which we can't add now without them clogging up the page.

Style gurus

We're fans of the Guardian and Observer style guide and the Gov.uk style guide as examples of good practice. Both are arranged alphabetically, rather than in thematic sections, so it's easier to guess what word to search for. Both provide short comments on points of style, but for some longer explanations, the Gov.uk style guide links to other guides.

Next season's styles

Based on these style guides, our plan is to rearrange our style guide into an A-Z of everything. Users will be able to search a single page for a point of style, but there will be aliases to make everything easier to find. For example, if you search 'lower case', you'll be told to see 'Capitalisation'. If you look for 'dot dot dot', you'll be pointed towards 'Ellipsis'.

In most cases, we'll give you a brief explanation of the point of style, how to use it, and examples of house style. Some things need a little (or a lot) more detail. For these, we'll link out to other Guide pages. These will cover things like:

  • apostrophes
  • inclusive language
  • academic terms
  • words to avoid

These points are all covered in the current style guide, but by giving them their own Guide pages we'll be able to go into them in much more detail. We'll be able to expand our explanations of inclusive language, for example, and give a much fuller list of words to avoid, a useful piece of content in the campaign for clarity.

We'll also link to our other writing guides, like 'Writing for the web' and 'Creating and writing blog posts'.

Keeping ahead of the trends

We'll continue to add to the style guide and improve it. The English language, like fashion, is constantly evolving. New words are always being invented and old words are always being misused, which means we always have plenty to add to the list of words to avoid. Here are a few of my current 'favourites':

  • toolkit
  • utilise
  • initiate
  • leverage
  • whilst

Style for everyone

Cable-knit jumpers are not for everyone, but the Editorial style guide certainly is. Anyone writing marketing, PR or informative content for the website should refer to it, not just the Digital Content team. It's also useful for people writing on the blog or even in print. Achieving consistency across all University communications is a big challenge, but having a single style guide to follow is a good step towards this.

The important thing is for everyone to keep the style guide in mind and use it as they write. This can be hard to do, even as an editor responsible for maintaining it. It takes a critical eye and an awareness of the types of things that you might need to check. Things like house style for quotation marks, bullet points or commas, whether 'biannual' means twice a year or every two years, how to write about currency, how to write the plural of 'master's degree', whether we hyphenate 'full-time', whether 'instalment' has one 'l' or two...

These are the things I dream about.

 

If you have any suggestions to improve the style guide, you can email web-support@bath.ac.uk.

 

Slaves to the dragon

📥  Communication, Team

We’re currently recruiting for three new people: a Content Producer and two Developers. This got me thinking about what I most enjoy about the team I work with and the work we do.

Being the newbie

I’m a relatively new member of the team. I started in January this year on a six-month maternity cover contract. If your maths skills are as good as mine you’ll notice that I’ve now been here for ten months. That’s because my contract was extended, which is great as I get to spend more time working with this team on the major project we call Transition.

This might sound like I’m spinning some sickly, sycophantic yarn, possibly in the hope of another contract extension, but I really do think it’s worth explaining how this team works because it’s not like anywhere I’ve been before.

My background is in book publishing, where I did digital marketing for a few too many years. I then spent a while developing my editorial skills through freelance work and as the web editor for a magazine site in Bristol. You don’t need my full CV, but it’s worth noting that I haven’t come through the ranks of academic content production to get here. Very few of the Content team have.

The team that sits together, ships together

Because I haven’t worked at a university before I've had a lot to learn — so many acronyms, so little time. But the exciting thing has been learning from everyone — the Content team, the developers, and the UX designers. We sit in the same room, which is a first for me, and as a team, we constantly share what we know. There are daily stand-up meetings and fortnightly Show & Tell presentations. We even have dedicated time slots for developing our skills, personally and as a team.

We work in our own interpretation of Agile, which I hadn't done before, but I picked it up really quickly with everyone's help. Working this way keeps us focused and on target as a unit.

We’re all about shipping, so much so that we have a flippin’ dragon that roars every time we make something live. There’s a real sense of team achievement when we ship an improvement for the user. We work hard to get things done, but when it’s 5 o’clock, we go home and we come back fresh the next day.

Best team ever!
(too much?)

As I mentioned, we all come from different backgrounds, so the office is full of interesting people, all of whom are endlessly friendly and ready to chat. I felt instantly welcome when I started and was immediately invited to join a load of Slack channels about comic books, video games, parenting, running, house hunting…

Everyone here is passionate about something, from cooking to travel to films to D&D; we all have something to talk about, something we love beyond our jobs. Being able to share these passions with our colleagues gives us the energy we need to produce great work. We’re here all day, but we don’t have to leave ourselves at home.

This extends to the dress code - of which there is none to speak - although I haven’t really put that to the test yet. Maybe next week I’ll wear my Spider-Man costume and see if anyone minds.

A blue plastic dragon