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Personas & user-centric content


Last Updated on November 26, 2021.

Using Personas to write user-centric web content

Personas are hypothetical ‘stand-ins’ for actual users.   They are imaginary, not real, but they represent real users.   Developing Personas to represent different audience groups can help you predict how your users will respond to your content.

Walk a mile in my shoes

footprintsContent is the most important part of a web site.  Users want content that is centered around their needs, and not around your needs or those of your organisation.  To write user-centric content, you must learn to put yourself in the shoes of your users, who may not have your knowledge, understanding or experience.

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind ..
— Walk a Mile in My Shoes – (words & music by Joe South)

Using Personas

Using Personas is a popular technique that many web developers and writers find helpful to create user-centric content.

For example, you may develop a Persona to represent the novice user, another to represent the largest segment of your audience, another to represent a highly skilled and expert user.   For each Persona,  you may give them a name, define their skills and requirements, and give them a personality by defining one or two fictional details about their lives. Then as you write your content, you can imagine or predict how each Persona will respond based on their profile.

What Personas are not

Personas are not a substitute for doing audience analysis.  Personas should not be entirely imaginary, but should be based on audience research – going out there and interviewing and gathering facts about your real-life users.   However, there may be situations where you are just beginning a project, and do not yet know who your audience will be – so imagined Personas help.

Using Personas is not a substitute for user testing.  Rather, Personas should be used as an adjunct to user testing on those occasions when it is not always practical to go out and test on live users.

How to create Personas

Tips from usability.gov1.:-

“You may develop one or more personas for a project but limit yourself to the main audiences for the site. For any given project, creating only three or four personas is best. Remember that it is better to paint with a broad brush and meet the needs of the larger populations than try to meet the needs of everyone. The goal of personas is not represent all audiences or address all needs of the website but instead to focus on the major needs of the most important user groups.

“To ensure your personas are accurate representations of your users and have the support of your stakeholders throughout the process, you should:

  • Conduct user research: Answer the following questions: Who are your users and why are they using the system? What behaviors, assumptions, and expectations color their view of the system?
  • Condense the research: Look for themes/characteristics that are specific, relevant, and universal to the system and its users.
  • Brainstorm: Organize elements into persona groups that represent your target users. Name or classify each group.
  • Refine: Combine and prioritize the rough personas. Separate them into primary, secondary, and, if necessary, complementary categories. You should have roughly 3-5 personas and their identified characteristics.
  • Make them realistic: Develop the appropriate descriptions of each personas background, motivations, and expectations. Do not include a lot of personal information. Be relevant and serious; humor is not appropriate.”

1.


Your audience of one

Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person – a real person you know, or an imagined person – and write to that one. – John Steinbeck

No matter how many people read your content,  it is each unique individual who is currently reading who makes your “audience of one”.  Many people have read John Steinbeck’s books; however, each individual reader was essential and important, and not dissolved in an anonymous mass. As quoted above, he needed to write for that one single reader.  The same holds true for website content – you have an opportunity for a one-on-one personal communication with each individual reader who comes to your webpage.  So get ready to know who that reader is so you can write to that one.

An alternative to using Personas

Writing for a real person

You can write for a real person who is one of your readers; and when that person is not in your presence, you can refer to a profile you have built based on their character, their likes and dislikes, their needs and their expectations – so that you can remind yourself how they are likely to react to your content.

Imagining yourself with a different level of understanding

Not everyone likes the idea of using Personas.  Some people find it easier to simply imagine what it would be like to read a page of content as if they themselves had a different level of knowledge and experience.  “If I were a beginner, what would it be like when I read this page?  Would I understand what is being said?”

Whatever way you achieve it, you must not write for yourself, or for your management team (unless they are the end-users).  If you want your users to keep coming back, write for THEM.

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