Oct 07, 2017
It’s all about context
By Stu Slayen
If you want to know how to plan that perfect evening to impress someone special, there are probably better resources than this blog. In fact, I know there are. But I have some other dating advice for you.
I often see words like “new” or “recent” or “last year” or “next month” to describe an event. If I need to know the timing of the event to understand what I’m reading, I might flip to the front of a report or scroll down to the bottom of a web page to check the copyright date (while cursing the writer and editor for making me work so hard). Using such relative time language is usually not helpful to the reader.
A few tips to consider:
- Scan your website regularly to make sure that any relative time/date language is still relevant. If an initiative or publication is a few months or a few years old, your site shouldn’t still be touting it as “new”. (Blog entries could be excluded from this advice if the date of a post is prominent.) Check your content regularly.
- Try to avoid the use of the words “recent” or “next” in an important report or article that might have some shelf life. Don’t refer to the “government’s recent infrastructure initiative.” It might have been recent when you wrote about it, but unless you have superpowers, you don’t know when the reader is reading it.
- Watch the calendar. In December 2013, I worked on a document that was due out in the first quarter of 2014. In her draft, the writer referred to an event that happened “earlier this year”. When she wrote that statement, it was true. When I read it, it was still true. But by the time the reader would have seen it, the statement would have been incorrect. Simple solution. We changed “earlier this year” to “March 2013”.
- “Person X has served as Executive Director for 10 years.” You have seen biographical text like this on a website, I’m sure. Come back in three years. Is the copy still the same? Probably. Even the most effective Executive Directors can’t make time stand still. It is much better to say “Person X has served as Executive Director since 2007.”
It’s all about context. And when you’re writing for an audience, only the audience’s context matters.