Impress Colleagues with User-Centered Design Writing

UCD_newAs we all have come to realize, business writing is a totally different concept than most high school courses prepare for.  Out the door goes the colorful, flowery descriptions that were desired in creative writing classes.  Even though persuasive essays and other research papers did not require such fluff, it was always important to go into every detail and have as much information as possible presented to the reader.  This is not the case in business writing, as we are trying to convey our points in the most quick and efficient way possible.  User-centered design is a great way to accomplish this, and can be broken down into three separate aspects.

Document Design

Since this format focuses so much on the user, than said user should be able to find the information that they need as easily as possible.  The following are several key ways to make navigation of the document simpler: a clear, usable table of contents, visible section headers and page numbers, informative headings, and a well-formatted index.  These tools allow for anyone to locate the section they need without mindlessly reading over useless information.  Furthermore, the pages should have plenty of white space instead of large blocks of text.  A few ways to accomplish this include using headings, tables, and lists to make the main points readily apparent and grouping related items together.  While using tables is effective, it is important not to overuse them and avoid creating lists within lists, as this defeats the purpose and jumbles the information together.  Additionally, using ragged right margins can make the information take up less space and be more presentable, as opposed to justifying everything in the document.

Information Design

According to techtarget, “information design is detailed planning of specific information that is to be provided to a particular audience to meet specific objectives.”  The concept of information design hones in on the readers ability to understand what is presented.  The information should start off general, and then move into the specifics.  An executive summary or introduction that outlays what is to come is the most effective way to begin this process.  We have been writing introductions since the early days of schooling, yet it is as important as ever to efficiently convey what the document is about so that the reader does not waste time trying to determine if the document contains the information needed.  Additionally, the aforementioned headers as well as topic sentences need to do the same thing; clearly show the nature of the text that is to follow.  The body paragraphs should follow the same “generic-to-specific” format instead of presenting the specifics right away. Information design can include formatting information content design, page design, web site design, illustration design, typography decisions, and other similar concepts.  Mastering these makes the document much more useful and informative for the reader.

Sentence Design

The final subdivision of user-centered design concerns itself specifically with how the document reads as a result of word choice and sentence structure.  It is always important to know who the audience is, and how versed they are in the subject at hand.  Avoiding the use of unnecessary, complex words and instead providing a glossary for any technical terms makes reading the document easy for anybody.  You will not always be presenting to fellow experts in the field, and a decision maker needs the points as easy to understand to make said decision effectively.  A great way to do this is using the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) concept.  This means aligning the sentence structure so that the main point is presented first, with any supporting information in the sentence coming afterword.  Additionally, business writing is almost always more effective when using the Subject Verb Object (SVO) structure.  This method presents the information in the most basic and understandable way possible.  However, as pointed out by Paradigm Online, this is the most common structure and can be altered for the benefit of the reader.  While you want to be sure not to confuse the reader and jumble the information, in certain situations it is effective to switch up the structure to ease the flow and create a specific emphasis or rhythm.

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