Anyone with “contribute” or “member” privileges for any page of your SharePoint site can be a web content producer. That’s really a great thing, but writing for the web is not the same as writing for print, especially when it comes to Announcements. Here are a few tips for creating great SharePoint Announcements.
The Announcements list is created by default with new SharePoint sites. The list is designed to be used to post news, status, and other short bits of information to share with team members. The emphasis in this sentence should be short but in practice, I’ve seen everything from meaningless sentence fragments to text that looks more like a novella than an announcement. My favorite “bad practice” announcement was a long letter written from the manager to the team that started and ended with a salutation – like Dear Team, blah blah blah, Love, Your Manager. I think we can do better than that!
1. Create a great title.
Think of the title of your announcement as the headline of a news article. Does the title of your announcement make sense if that’s all the user will see? Does it have enough information to convey your main point but also encourage users to click to see more if they are interested? Since the “out of the box” Announcements web part takes up a lot of real estate, many site owners change the default view so that it shows only Title and Modified Date. This makes writing a great title even more important. My blog editor, Julie, is passionate about blog entry titles. In a reminder about this last month, she wrote, “…look at your headline as if it were the only thing on the page and ask yourself … does it help the reader know what my post says?” This is good advice for anyone contributing to an Announcements list.
2. Use separate announcements to talk about separate topics.
It’s not a good idea to assume that your readers will actually read all the information you put on your site. (Sorry, but it’s true.) So, if you want to be sure the reader gets the message you are trying to convey in your announcement, focus on just one point. If you need to convey more information on another topic, consider posting a second Announcement (with a second great title … see first point above).
3. Keep the body of the message short.
According to research done by Jakob Nielsen, users don’t typically read very much when they are looking at a web page – probably no more than about 20% of the text. If a user opens an announcement to read, they are clearly intending to read it. However, that doesn’t get you off the hook of keeping the message brief. If you need to explain instructions, describe a detailed process, or provide more than about a paragraph or two of information, create a hyperlink to a document or page that provides the detail. When you create the hyperlink, be sure to …
4. Create meaningful hyperlinks.
Links should be short, sound active, and clearly describe where they lead. For example, here are some examples of alternative link text:
Bad: Click here for the latest application form.
Better: Download the latest application form.
Best: Download the latest application form.
5. Use expiration dates.
The default Announcements list has an expiration date that many users do not fully understand, especially if they change the web part view for the list. When the expiration date is reached, the announcement disappears from the home page automatically if you are using the out of the box web part view. The announcement itself is not deleted; it is still available on the Announcements page. If you change the web part view, the expiration date will not have any effect on the web part view unless you add a filter to the view as follows:
First filter where Expires is equal to [blank]
Then, add a second filter that adds an “OR” and where Expires is greater than or equal to [Today]
It’s important to enter the filters in the order described above.
6. Use it or lose it.
This is probably not a best practice for writing announcements, but it’s worth mentioning in this context. If you are not planning to actively post announcements on a regular basis, consider eliminating the list from your site. Just because it comes in the default template doesn’t mean it’s relevant for your site or team. It will be less confusing for users to eliminate lists and libraries you are not planning to use (you can always add them back later if you need them).
Susan Hanley is an independent consultant and president of her own firm, Susan Hanley LLC, where she specializes in helping organizations build effective portal and collaboration solutions using SharePoint as the primary platform.
She is co-author of Essential SharePoint 2010: Overview, Governance, and Planning. Read a free chapter of the book.