Intranet Content Strategy Part 4: Mistakes That Ruin Content

April 28, 2015
Robin Dominik Havre
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So you think you’ve got a great content idea? Maybe you do…

Or maybe you’ve got the basis for great content. But how you get it down on paper will ultimately determine how captivating your final piece is.

It’s a path riddled with pitfalls that can ruin your great idea, many of which are frighteningly easy to make.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that can hold you back from writing your great story.

1. Overcomplicated language

Nothing kills the flow of a great story faster than unnecessarily complicated language.

As a wise man once said:

Employing inordinately Daedalian prose in an endeavour to inveigle your readership into incontrovertible cognizance of your singular potentiality for loquacious content…

… is generally a bad idea.

It’s a common mistake among rookie writers to think that fancy words improve your credibility. But the truth is, all you really do is alienate your audience, break their attention span and sound a little silly.

Remember, even when someone is browsing the Internet for something they really want to read, attention spans are notoriously fragile. In fact, usability scientist Nielsen Norman Group have published multiple studies on the fact that you’ve got seconds or even fractions of seconds to grab your readers attention.

Of course, you need to find a balance here. Keep things too simple, and your reader may feel that your piece is flat or, in a worst-case scenario, patronising.

2. Layout and words are too dense

Let’s imagine two different types of content here.

The first is an academic “white paper”. It uses:

  • Complicated terminology and jargon to discuss very complicated subjects in considerable detail.
  • Paragraphs that are very often long (6 lines or more)
  • Very little white space (if any at all) between paragraphs
  • Formal tone and language
  • A small font that makes the whole thing very dense

That’s fine for white papers because readers want that level of detail. But now let’s imagine something more conversational in nature. When you write your intranet content you should use:

  • The word “you” instead (for example) “employees” or “staff” wherever relevant and possible.
  • A conversational tone that speaks to the reader
  • Paragraphs rarely longer than 2-3 lines of text
  • A full carriage return (blank line) between each paragraph
  • A large, bold font that’s easy to read

Neil Patel is one of the world’s leading content marketers and knows how to get results. In this user eye-tracking study, the “white space” principle is proven.


Image credit: Neil Patel & QuickSprout

As you can see, the dense paragraphs on the left get little attention compared with the skinny paragraphs on the right. The middle example produces something in between.

Remember this before strategising your intranet content. It’s not an academic whitepaper.

3. Not getting your facts straight

How important is getting your facts straight? Let’s put things into perspective.

There’s a little-known profession called “fact checking”. Seriously… it’s an entire standalone role because it’s that important and that easy to mess up.

In fact, entire organisations are dedicated to checking facts. If you’re wondering what the headquarters of such an organisation might look like, here’s the Der Spiegel building in Hamburg.


Der Spiegel checking facts in content

Yup. It’s that serious.

An entire article can be built around a single fact. That means, if you’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood the facts, your entire article is immediately null and void.

Okay, so you don’t need to employ a full-time fact-checker or outsource your intranet content to Hamburg. But ensure you do a little confirmation of your own prior to publishing your content.

4. Don’t forget to edit

Because you’ll damage your credibility and people are less likely to come back for more of your content.

Journalists work towards developing “editor’s eyes”.

While you scan through recently written words, your brain is pretty clever. It remembers what you meant to write and fills in the blanks, glossing over mistakes you made so you say the correct sentence in your mind while reading.

It’s weird, because you don’t even notice the mistake you just read.

That’s why it’s so difficult to proofread your own work. In fact, the reason why you very rarely see mistakes in magazines is because it’s been proofread by around four people before, (one of which is a professional proofreader) prior to publication.

For most writers, an immediate re-read will pick up several mistakes, but there will be more besides.

A good strategy around this is to create your writing schedule so that the article is finished ahead of time. Whether that’s the evening before the publication day or further ahead is up to you.

But, the more time elapsed in between you finishing the article and a final proof read or edit, the fresher your perspective will be and the less likely you are to gloss over those mistakes.

5. Weak closing paragraph

It’s always a shame to see an article go out with a whimper.

Your aim should be to “leave a good taste in people’s mouths”.

One neat tactic is to bring the direction of your content back to the idea originally discussed in your opener. In this case, the opener was about that awesome idea you had.

When you have a good content idea, you’ve won half the battle. And by avoiding these easy-to-make mistakes, you can win the second half after the battle, too. And that means the kind of internal comms piece that generates results.

When that happens, it spurs you on, motivating you to create better ideas next time, executing with an even more solid methodology in a bid to get better results.

The snowball effect that ensues is the kind of thing that can transform you into an internal communications hero.

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Robin Dominik Havre

Robin is the CEO of New Intranet. He's helped many companies deploy successful mobile intranets that are easy to use and specially designed for employees not working in front of a computer. The goal of this blog is to provide research-backed intranet and internal communications advice for more successful HR strategies.

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