About Emma

As one of our web content officers Emma plans, writes and edits content for the central website. She helps to maintain the University’s content style guides and is responsible for development of the team’s website and this blog. Emma is a productivity geek and always on the lookout for solutions that can help the team work smarter.

Check Your Spelling and Grammar as You Type

Content evaluation tools, like Siteimprove, help you to fix problems like misspellings on your live website. But what about catching the mistakes before they’re made public?

For the past month or so I’ve been testing a browser-based spelling and grammar checker that highlights any issues as you type. It’s called Grammarly. You might have seen one of their ads as you’ve waited for a video to play on YouTube?

Add the browser extension to Chrome and you’re ready to go.

The extension works in most browser-based text editors, from webmail to social media and of course, T4. As you type you’ll see errors highlighted in red. When you hover over them an explanation of why they’ve been picked up is given along with suggested corrections. Just like the spellchecker in Word, you can review the identified errors and choose to accept or ignore them.

Screenshot of Grammarly spelling correction in T4

You can choose to sign up for a free account (although it’s not necessary) to get access to additional features:

  • choose British English rules for spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • add words to your personal dictionary
  • write directly in Grammarly or upload documents for checking

It’s not perfect, and I’d advise you to read the explanations and use your judgment as to whether you accept them or not. It’s also not a substitute for proofreading your content before it’s published, but it’s a pretty good tool to help you take a step towards minimising spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

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Go Mobile Batch 10

It’s the end of the road. This morning the last batch of sites in the Go Mobile programme went live. They are:

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Go Mobile Batches 8 and 9

We’re in the final straight and the end of the Go Mobile project is in sight. We completed all of the large central and school sites last year. Since Christmas, we’ve been working on larger batches of institute and centre sites. Working in short, four-week cycles we’ve completed two batches so far this year.

Batch eight (27 january)

Batch nine (17 february)

Now there’s just one batch and eleven sites to go.

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Top Five Takeaways From Agile Content Conference

At the end of January, I attended the Agile Content Conference in London. With the overall theme of collaboration, I was excited to pick up some practical tips to improve our work with colleagues in schools and services. Here are my top five takeaways from the day of case studies and workshops.

Embed content professionals within product/service teams

Erica Hoerl talked about her time working as a lone content strategist in the Messenger product team at Facebook. Emphasising the importance of having a voice for content at every stage of the product’s development, rather than drafting someone in for a specific content phase.

I’ve experienced the latter situation a lot. When the content team sits externally to a product or service team, we’re often brought in after the important decisions have been made. Embedding a content professional as a member of the team from the outset helps to get content seen as not just an add-on but a crucial part of any development.

Learn together

Jonathan Kahn introduced the conference with a series of collaboration tips to help find a solution that works for everyone:

  • talk to a range of people, not just those you’ve worked with before
  • align goals before identifying user needs
  • reframe objections as opportunities
  • learn together

They key to this, I think, is learning together; involving all stakeholders in user research and content design. This is supported by something Jo Wolfe asked us – to challenge ourselves to leave our preconceptions behind when starting a project. I think too often we start a project with a solution before really understanding the problem we’re trying to fix.

Pair writing workshop

Proof I was there – taking part in a pair writing activity

Mental models help create empathy

In its simplest definition, a person’s mental model is the way they look at the world. It’s based on beliefs or assumptions about how things should work. Mental models are built up over time through experience. They are unique to an individual and change over time, as we gain more experience of different situations.

We can gain an insight into someone’s mental model through user research. This allows us to understand their motivations and concerns. It helps to create empathy and in turn, allows us to design content that meets their needs.

Use principles to drive content creation

Lauren Pope and Sarah Jones from Brilliant Noise shared a case study from their work with American Express to streamline content creation and reuse through an editorial hub. They aligned the work of multinational content production teams through a clearly defined purpose and set of principles.

The principle that stands out to me is this:

“Only AmEx can do this.”

It’s a bold statement about the importance of producing unique content. Something that I’m painfully aware of in the HE sector is the number of university websites that are just carbon copies of each other. Whenever we create new content for our sites we need to ask “what makes us unique?” and use that to tell a story.

Solve fewer problems better

This nugget of wisdom comes from Alex Watson, a product manager for BBC News. It’s pretty clear what it means, and I’m sure most of us would be likely to dismiss it as a given. And perhaps that’s the problem. We can get so swept along on a treadmill of things we need to get done, that sometimes we lose quality in the work we’re doing. I’m going to make a commitment to myself to do fewer things better. Will you join me?


Image credit: Paul Clarke on Flickr.

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How to Describe Images for Accessibility and Findability

The University’s template for external websites gives great flexibility in the use of images. From visual grid layouts to mastheads and galleries.

Many users of our websites don’t see these images. They may have chosen not to download images, or might be using a screen reader to turn visual information into audio. This means it’s important to provide contextual information about our images.

Alternative text, or alt-text, is used to describe images to screen readers used by visually impaired people. It is also a useful aid for search engine optimisation, as search bots can crawl this field to get information about the image.

Good practice for alt-text

In T4 when you add an image to the media library, whatever you put in the description field is output as alt-text.

To make your alt-text effective, keep it short and descriptive. For all our web content, we recommend you write naturally and clearly – alt-text is no exception.

Long alt attributes will disrupt the flow of the content on your page. If you have a lot to say about the image, eg for a chart or graph, add a caption or describe it in the text on the page. Don’t cram this into the alt-text.

It’s good to think about including key words in your alt-text to aid findability, but they must be relevant to the image. Don’t fill your alt text with a string of random keywords just to help search optimisation. This will be confusing for users of screen readers. As we recommend for all content – write for people, not search engines.

We recommend that you avoid using text in an image as it can’t be seen by screen readers or search bots. Therefore it’s not accessible or findable. But, if you do have text in an image, make sure you also include that text in the alt attribute.

Exceptions

Alt text is not needed for:

  • purely decorative images, eg the masthead images on the NICA website
  • where there is also link text, eg top task boxes on homepages

However, there still needs to be an alt tag in the code of the page. If the alt tag is missing, a screen reader will try to add context by reading the image name, and this is often unhelpful.

An empty alt tag indicates to the screen reader that the image is meaningless. This means it’s simply ignored by the screen reader. The good news is that in T4 if the description field is left empty then the alt text field is left empty and still appears in the code.

Find out more

This video, created by Mike West, gives a great overview of what I’ve covered in this blog post. It includes examples of exactly what a screen reader picks up from images with and without alt-text.

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