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We have a new writer/editor on board as of yesterday. Desperately needed, I might add. I’ve already passed her two tasks that I really needed an editor’s eye on, and she already caught a typo I missed (I did write it and hadn’t proofed it yet–nor had I put it up yet, but that’s beside the point).
I’d love to tell the story and link it, but it’s not ready for public viewing just yet. I’ll give some background instead.
In a cost-saving/environmentalist attempt to be more efficient, our office is going to stop sending a letter reminding students who apply that we’re missing information from them like standardized test scores and their high school transcript. Instead, we’ll be directing them to their online account with us, where they can view their regularly-updated status and see exactly what we’re missing at the time.
In the past, this letter and the transcript or scores often crossed in the mail, prompting anxious calls. At the same time, I expect we’ll get “I didn’t know I had to check that” calls from now on, even though we’ve made every effort to point them to the resource, and we know that most students are using it. Obsessively, even.
So there’s rewriting of current material to be done. We have to catch everywhere we might mention that letter.
Even though the process of halting this letter started almost last year at this time, it was only today that we made the decision to stop the letter entirely. Starting tomorrow.
So there was, of course, a bit of a scramble to make sure we’d killed it everywhere we needed to. Most of it was double-checking on things I’d changed six months ago and forgotten about for certain, but it was a scramble nonetheless. I checked the last place I needed to at about 5:10 this afternoon.
In the process, a few things were proven to me.
I had considered asking the new writer/editor to help me locate the letter references, but quickly dismissed that as folly. She would have no idea where to start other than a search engine.
If I hadn’t been in the office today, this might have been a problem. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really do think that I’m the only one in the office that knows all the content on our site backwards and forwards. And given that memory isn’t always my strong suit (I digitize most of it to give me more processing room), that resource needs to reside somewhere else too.
Basically, I’d argue that for a large site containing lots of procedures, you need documentation for where things that may need to be changed reside. And it has to cross platforms.
We’ve yanked a lot of references in my time with Admissions:
- SAT I became just SAT.
- We used to recommend against the rush option for their scores–strangely enough, there was a time this came to us via paper, whereas the normal scores came electronically and were loaded faster.
- We used to take scores as official if they were printed on a high school transcript. No longer.
And that’s just standardized test scores.
Now that I’ve been there long enough and I know all of our materials, I can name most of the spots all the above used to appear: which brochures (viewbook, fact brochure), presentations (prospect, out-of-state, SASD), letters (AU001–the missing information letter; a host of others not worth mentioning), pages on our site (news/html/newsat.htm, from our old site–and I’m sure you can recognize the archaic structure there), the application for admission, and a ton of standard email we send out as reminders.
It’s the pieces I don’t touch regularly that have gotten missed. I found an email from what used to be a separate team in the office that still has both the rush score and transcript mention that was sent out as recently as last January. And, I suspect, more recently than that still, but have yet to have proof.
Our office is, unfortunately, a bit of a Kraken: multi-armed and sprawling. Such is the nature of a large office with independent functions, much less a large university or a multi-campus institution like ours. We can occasionally collect all our arms, but most of the time a tentacle does get loose. They’re squirmy little buggers.
And no, I’m not going to make the Cthulhu comparison some of you might be expecting.
But back to my point.
Not everyone in the organization is going to be an expert. You’ll always have new staff. Help with managing sites, processes, etc is always welcome. Documentation may be key to keep all your miscellaneous bits in line.
Everything is Miscellaneous, and it doesn’t always flock as neatly as Weinberger demonstrates. Learn to manage your organization’s information, both for the benefit of your own memory and sanity, and to help the new folks on your team.
At a recent meeting, I and a bunch of our decision-makers were trying to make changes to how we use some of our brochures. Costs are rising, both in terms of printing a piece and the cost of postage to distribute them, and budgets are being cut back, so it was time to take that hard look.
And I finally heard one of the sentences I’ve been waiting for out of our Executive Director’s mouth:
“People are looking for this information online.”
. . .
Thank you. And darn right they are.
Even putting aside the fact that we created this piece because the colleges stopped printing their own pieces with similar information, there’s the doubles and triples that students get of the same brochure, not knowing it’s in their folder already or that there’s one in the mail to them, etc.
And besides which, they’re getting the information the way they want to already. The related pages in question on our site are our most popular pages. We know people are accessing this information there. Even our Knowledge Base entries show it’s the most popular question people have in mind when they get to our site.
So I presented a mock-up of a new landing page for the subject in question. I poured all the information we had about the subject onto a page and then faithfully trimmed it by half. I did not go the half again that Steve Krug recommends because–frankly–this was just a mock-up. I didn’t have the go-ahead to spend more time on it, really.
And the first response? “Awfully cluttered,” and “wordy,” to quote the two folks in question. Absolutely right, and I’ll admit it. I could certainly spend more time and cut it back more.
And thank you for recognizing what people want on the web: clarity and simplicity.
Be succinct. That’s my best web writing tip.
This is, however, super difficult to do when you’re dealing with a multi-campus system that’s truly (more or less) integrated in terms of curriculum and admissions. With 12 academic colleges at this campus and another 6 throughout the rest of the other 19 campuses scattered across the commonwealth. And especially when multiple campuses offer majors that have the same name, but are different programs with different curricula and options.
Not an easy task. But one I have to tackle.
But tomorrow. I almost missed today’s post-per-day due to midnight hitting, and that just won’t do, now will it?
We’re in the midst of launching the new Admissions site–in phases, believe it or not. So right now we have www.psu.edu/admissions up simultaneously with admissions.psu.edu, though the front page of the latter redirects to the former at the moment. But if you know a second-level page you can explore the new site, like admissions.psu.edu/academics.
This is good in a lot of ways, including getting search working ahead of time–giving our Google spiders the run of the place, basically–but frustrating in others. Most of those frustrating bits are things we wouldn’t want to have public, certainly, but the longer we wait, the worse it might be in terms of fixing the things that need it after launch (both myself and the other main person working on the site have vacation time and/or conferences coming up fast that would preclude helping with damage control if need be).
I rather wish I’d started this blog earlier, though, if only to take a look back and see how much we’ve covered in how short a time period.
A lot of people laughed when they heard we were planning a complete and total redesign–infrastructure, information architecture, design, content, and all–in the span of five months. But we hit it.