Full Circle Communications

October 2011


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ease in writing?
"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Note he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just as dance lessons can help get you around the floor more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two to improve your writing.

Writing for Mobile Devices

Cell phonesUsability expert Jakob Nielsen points out a paradox: People read on their smart phones or other mobile devices when they are waiting, commuting, or otherwise have time to spare, yet they still expect content to be short and to the point.

In many cases, they seek very local information: the nearest Starbucks, the pharmacy's hours, a restaurant review. But even if your organization doesn't deal in such nuts-and-bolts information, you can provide a useful "mobile experience."

How? Here's advice from Ahava Leibtag, principal of the web consulting firm Aha Media Group and Nam-ho Park, director of mobile services for Forum One, a digital communications firm that works on many social issues.

Initial Considerations

To Leibtag, three things influence decisions about content for a mobile device:
  • Your business strategy, which determines the relevant content to make mobile. What do you need to get across that people are more apt to seek on a mobile device than on their desktop/laptop?  
  • When and how users will access the content, whether they need it ASAP or over time. Her example: A public health agency might answer "What should I do if my condom breaks" on a simple website, with clear steps to take. In contrast, tips for a healthy pregnancy might be texted weekly.
  • Level of interactivity, such as if you need users to fill out forms or otherwise communicate back to you.
Before writing, she develops user scenarios in this early stage--defining the target users and then working through what information they may seek via a mobile device and how (while they commute? walking through a mall? alone or in a crowd?).

As Park told me, "People aren't browsing and researching on mobile devices like they are on their desktop or laptop. The headline, first paragraph, and image must tell the story."

Five Writing Implications
  • Brief, packed headlines: "BBC is a master of the 5-word headline," said Park.
  • Mobile-tailored keywords: "SEO is different on a mobile device and is constantly changing," said Leibtag, noting Google had seven SEO-related updates in the past four months alone. If ranking high is a priority, get up to speed or hire someone who is.
  • The first paragraph: "The first paragraph should offer a summary of the whole," said Park. No holding back your best stuff in hopes people will be so intrigued they keep reading. 
  • Well-explained links: Because pages load slower on a mobile device, clearly describe what the link is so people can decide if they want to go there.  
  • Provocative images: Work with the designer on small but interesting images. Park pointed to Mashable's mobile site as a good example.
Changes Ahead

Both Leibtag and Park stress that many changes lie ahead for mobile technology. "When is the last time you had to re-learn something on your desktop or laptop?" asked Leibtag. "Mobile is constantly shifting, and we are far from the end of the changes."

And we will go beyond mobile, said Park. A McKinsey report, The Internet of Things, foresees a world in which connectivity is ubiquitous.

To Learn More  


Jakob Neilsen provides data about different web usability issues, with findings sent out biweekly. Two recent studies cover mobile content and usability. 


On Aha Media Group's website, you can link to a video of a presentation by Ahava Leibtag on mobile testing, which covers content. She also recommended Content Marketing Institute and Jared Spool's User Interface Engineering site for good background.

Nam-ho Park of Forum One provided me with examples of mobile-friendly websites: Mashable, Wired, and the Boston Globe. Look at them on your PC and then on your smartphone.

As an example of "responsive design," which he said means that content resizes dynamically to look good on a PC, tablet, or smartphone
is one that Forum One built for the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Here it is on my desktop:

Screen Shot from Desktop

And on my smartphone:

Screen Shot from Smartphone




Full Circle Communications, LLC / Alexandria, VA / 703.212.0349