Intranets and the internet are beginning to look a lot alike. In the past, publishing on an intranet was strictly limited to a few authors and editors. Today, however, an increasing number of employees are contributing content. In this article, I’ll give you a few ideas on how to optimize your writing for an intranet.
On an intranet, readers usually have limited time to skim through titles. As in newspapers or on the internet, writing needs to effectively get a reader’s attention. It should also tell them what the article is about. The overall content then needs to represent what you outline in the summary.
Try using the inverted pyramid principle. Write the most important content first, starting with general information and then get more specific.
Use a meaningful headline. This will spark curiosity and interest in readers. Though you may need to use longer titles, keep in mind that they can be distracting and make articles more difficult to find. Try to make a title that is six words or less. Think about a Google search: only a 70-character maximum appears in the results.
Subheadings help explain and arrange content. Sometimes categories can be used, depending on the system you use.
The first paragraph
In the first paragraph, describe to the reader what you will be writing about. Based on this, the reader decides whether to continue reading or not. It’s also a good idea to aim to answer these basic questions:
Some authors write the introductory paragraph after they finish the article. Others write it first, so they can be clear on how the article will take shape.
Personally, I switch between the two techniques. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to write from the very start. Then I start asking my first ‘W-questions’ to structure the paragraph and to research. Other times, the content develops first as a result of my research. I’ll then write an executive summary and use it as the first paragraph.
The first paragraph should be short and succinct. Depending on the content, it can be about three or four sentences long (also depending on the length of your sentences). Some intranet systems take over the first paragraph automatically for article overviews. Others allow you to input a shortened form of the paragraph in a special field.
Try to keep sentences clear and concise. Though it’s tempting to write long, eloquent sentences, readers might not get what you’re saying if it’s too wordy.
Also, try to use as few abbreviations as possible. It always takes a little extra time to figure them out. Not to mention, they interrupt reading flow and you can’t be sure that everyone knows what they mean. An exception could be if you’re writing to people who are specialists in their respective fields. However, if you absolutely need to use abbreviations, write out what they mean when you first use them.
Keep it short and simple
In general, don’t use long sentences and paragraphs. Describe one idea within a paragraph. If you need as many as seven to ten sentences, break up the idea into a couple of paragraphs.
Use bold fonts sparingly
When you make every other word bold, it interrupts reading flow and the content loses effectiveness.
Use active voice
Don’t use passive voice:
The man was bitten by the dog.
That doesn’t look too bad, right?
The dog bit the man.
The second example is better because you don’t have to look at the end of the sentence to find the subject. Use clear order:
Most of the time a sentence has more than five or six words. By using active voice, you make it easy for the reader to follow.
Bullet points and numbering
Bullet Points and numbering helps readers get an overview of the information:
- Bullet point
With bullets and numbering, you can list and explain several points. In a list, you can arrange your points by subject, time, or priority. You can also explain an item on the list. However, as soon as you write three or more (simple) sentences for one or more points, it’s best to use paragraphs, or even headings.
Group together related topics with headings. Imagine that you’re creating an outline for a very short chapter. Doing so will let your readers know what to expect. Then, expand on an support those expectations with further information.
You can use subheadings to highlight longer sections under existing headings. If possible, make sure that you don’t use more than two levels, otherwise you could confuse or distract the reader.
Some content management systems give you a way to create a table of contents. If this is the case, readers can quickly see the article’s structure and can go right to the headings.
Shorter articles don’t usually need headings, so you can stick to a few bullet points or a numbered list.
Pay attention to context
Pay attention to the context in which the article will be published.
- Who is your target audience? (e.g., management, all employees, specific departments)
- Where will you be publishing? (company website, forum, or social media)
- Format (letter, report, essay, or editorial, etc.)
- Device (smartphones and tablets)
Depending on the context, you could use a more informal tone and refrain from detailed professional explanations.
At the end, briefly bring the focus back onto the reader. This makes it easier for you to recap the content and helps the reader remember it.
This is also a great place to create a call to action. You can even market something on your intranet, such as attending a seminar or work party, subscribing to your status updates, and more.
The writing itself
Don’t make things harder than they need to be. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and there’s no need to finish it in one go. Just do it and keep going:
- Just write and don’t worry about errors. 😉
- Divide your ideas into headings (or make an outline).
- Hone your writing into a first draft.
- Edit the first draft, check the structure, and refine it.
- Go back to the beginning of the article, expand it, rework it, check the headings, etc.
Grammar and spelling corrections can occasionally be done while you write, but it’s not necessary. You should, however, do a few edits before publishing. Read through your article thoroughly, and put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Would the content and structure make sense to them?
Ask a colleague, depending on the scope and context of the article, to edit it. Request that they make corrections and ask questions about your writing.
In closing, this article is intended for those who wish to provide more intranet content as a way of creating relevance. However, these tips are not necessarily hard and fast rules. In fact, if you deter employees with too many rules and regulations, you won’t be getting any content. The most important thing is that the information itself is made centrally available. It’s even better when it’s reader-friendly and can be viewed efficiently.
- 10 #Intranet Writing Tips (Even if You Already Rock at Business Writing)
- Writing for the Web – Toby Ward
- Writing that Works – Kenneth Roman
If you have a few minutes, go ahead and take a look at some of my other articles in the blog related to intranets (this is my ‘call to action’).
Frank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende.
You can find more articles by Frank Hamm in our intranet special.