I’ve seen this. A client’s election begins and they do some really proper things such as:
- Announce the start of voting on their website.
- Use the Ballot Counter to display a live count of ballots cast right on the election announcement page.
- Provide a link to the ballot.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen times when the beauty of these things almost gets lost in a clutter of aimless and horribly verbose text surrounding it.
I’ll not name names or even copy and paste bad examples here (at least not in their entirety), but instead try to provide very general advice on things not to do. Much of what applies to announcing the start of voting on a web page can be borrowed directly from the 6 Tips for Crafting Election Emails. For example:
- Don’t flood the reader with text. The only thing you are attempting to do with an announcement page is get the voter to the ballot. That important call to action is undermined by anything that does not serve it directly. The voter may need to understand what they are being asked to vote for in order to follow through on the call to action, so saying what that is can be helpful. In other words, is this election for a new board of directors, or a referendum on a bylaw change? That could make a difference in getting voters to the ballot, but full details are not necessary at this point.
- Don’t provide instructions prematurely. In one case I saw, “To access information about each candidate, click on the candidate’s name.” But candidate names were nowhere to be seen in the announcement! How is a voter expected to click a candidate’s name on a page where the candidates’ names don’t even appear? What this instruction meant was, once you’re at the ballot, click the candidate’s name for more information, but the instruction made no mention of it being applicable only after accessing the ballot. Furthermore that particular instruction already appears on the ballot, so providing it prematurely accomplishes nothing and only creates confusion over what should be a very simple experience for a voter. This example went on with things like, “Please complete the ballot by clicking the check boxes to the left of the candidates for whom you wish to vote.” Again, there were no checkboxes on the announcement page where the instruction appeared, nor should there have been. That instruction is again one that already appears where it belongs—on the ballot.
- Don’t describe the behavior of the ballot. The ballot describes its own behavior so duplicating that on an announcement page is utterly pointless. An example of what I’m talking about here might be using the announcement page to tell the voter he may select up to three candidates from a slate of ten that are contesting open seats on a board of directors. In such an example, the ballot will tell the voter—right at the moment and location when it’s relevant—the maximum number of candidates that may be selected. Furthermore, the ballot prevents voters from selecting more than your voting rules permit, so it’s not at all necessary to go into an explanation of what might happen if a voter attempts to overvote.
- Don’t describe the information contained in a candidate biography. The biography describes the information contained in the biography. Why do it on the announcement page?
- Don’t forget to mention the deadline. This one needs no further explanation.
- Don’t misplace the link to the ballot. Misplace in this context means placing the link to the ballot at the bottom of the page, particularly if the bottom means below the fold. The only time that would be ok is if it also appeared clearly near the top of the page.
- Don’t neglect to state why voting benefits the voter. Quite often these announcement pages are so focused on providing useless instruction, they totally neglect to mention anything about how voting benefits the voter. If you can’t come up with a reason why voting benefits the voter, it may be time to revisit your organization’s mission statement and reason for being.
Communicators are paid to communicate and it can be tempting to put one’s writing skills on full display when it comes time to make an announcement. But interaction with modern day communication mediums calls for an approach that recognizes website and email readers do not sit and read each and every word. They scan and how we present our communications to them needs to recognize that and play by the reader’s rules in order to be effective. Communication is not about being verbose, it’s about being clear, and being clear on web pages often means using fewer words, not more.