A researcher used Buzzfeed style headings on Help pages – the results will astound you

Flair PoolThere was an interesting news snippet today from Flair Pool, a PhD candidate who has been researching how the latest trends from the Web and Social Media can be applied to traditional user documentation.

Flair has been looking at how the techniques used by sites such as Buzzfeed could be incorporated into knowledge bases and online Help sites such as the Microsoft Developer Network and IBM’s Software Knowledge Base. She’s been running tests on changing the titles of topics, to increase the number of clicks, and then testing the results. Flair’s premise is that Help topic titles are typically quite dry – adding a user, deleting a user, opening a file etc. – and not very attractive to Millennials used to reading Buzzfeed and similar sites.

Millennials photo

Millennials Flickr image by Erin Nekervis

Not all types of Buzzfeed-style titles were judged appropriate to Help content, and so were excluded from the tests. In other words, the researchers did not rewrite any content linking a feature to users’ sex lives.

Below we’ve listed some of the modified topic titles Flair used in three different image applications:

Buzzfeed style Help
  • That Moment When Your Backup Doesn’t Work
  • Collaborating With Other Users – First You’ll Be Shocked, Then You’ll Be Inspired
  • File Sharing – You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
  • The 15 Filters That Prove This App Isn’t Such A Bad Place
  • 11 Blending Techniques That Only Advanced Users Know
  • Manipulating Colours Better Than Kim Kardashian
  • Apply These 6 Secret Techniques To Improve Getting Started With [XYZ]
  • Saving An Image File Anyone Would Be Proud Of
  • Adding A User Doesn’t Have To Be Hard. Read These 6 Tips
  • Get Rid Of Resizing An Image Problems Once And For All
  • Are You Embarrassed By Your Cropping Images Skills? Here’s What To Do
  • Five Template Tips That Will Make You Feel Like A Genius
  • In 10 Minutes, I’ll Give You The Truth About Image Layers
  • 4 Backup Tasks That Will Make You Want To Fall In Love
  • Do You Make These Simple Mistakes When Deleting A User?
  • Get Better File Conversion Results By Following 3 Simple Steps
  • Configuration Screens You Should Never Show A Unhappy User
  • When You Open A File And You’re Like, “Corrupted File”

Flair will reporting her findings and conclusions at the first ever CommaCon conference, which is being held in Oxford in the Autumn. She’s also applied to speak at the Kerning-Mann 2015 event as well. At this point, we can say the initial results suggest changing to this style of writing increases the number of page hits by 0.35%.

Flair is proposing these alternative style of topics titles be included as part of the new Lightweight DITA standard, on the basis that you can’t get more lightweight than this type of headline.

What do you think?

Could you see yourself using these types of titles in your user documentation? Share your thoughts below.

See also:

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Craig Wright

I agree with the idea. I’ve been pushing for ‘sales style’ headings in help for a long time. In my view, each heading is an opportunity to remind people how great the product is and, where possible, should sell a benefit as well as tell the user how to achieve a goal. Technical writing is often dry and lifeless because that’s how we have been taught, and to an extent, that is how it has always been. We should aim to keep the balance between chatty, benefits-led sales copy and clear, concise information.

Mike Starr

It’s a fine idea as long as users are able to find the appropriate help topic. Must be able to search for traditional terms with positive results (unlike Microsoft Help which deprecates previous terminology making it impossible to find help topics using term the user community is used to).

Another possibility that comes to mind is merging the two concepts… go with the sexy topic titles but put a small pointer to the traditional topic concept at the end of the title in parentheses.

One downside of the new approach is that alphabetizing topic titles becomes meaningless. In order to find the required topic, users will have to actually READ every title rather than scrolling through a list of traditional terms in alphabetic order.

Craig Wright

But an alphabetical list is just an index (of sorts) isn’t it? You could still have that too, in a separate place if needed. When I try to implement the type of approach mentioned in the article, I always try to include the feature/setting name in the title. If you treat the content as a web page and the search terms as key phrases that you’d need for SEO in Google, it works well.

Chris Roche

Nice one. Q – will it disappear at midday UK time or does Fools day last longer with different time zones?

David Farbey

The Reason Why Ellis Failed To Mention That Flair Pool Is Doing Her PhD At The University Of Bodoni Will Astound You

Ed Heel

I enjoyed that, Ellis! And the serious exchange between Craig and Mike was amusing to see too. You GOT them!

Ellis Pratt

We try to take something that’s believable and stretch it so it becomes sillier and sillier. The fun is coming up with a shaggy dog tale rather than making people look stupid. This one was more believable than last years, and I’m sure someone will do a toned down version for real at some stage in the future.

Diana Logan

Belated April, April. Happy I was on hols and missed this one


Too many words. Hard for someone in a hurry to easily find what they’re looking for. Might be good for knowledge base articles, though.

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