Engaging project descriptions are crucial to catching people’s attention and boosting participation.
A good project description should be no longer than 200 words max, grab people’s attention and instantly be easy to understand.
Here’s how to set out basic project information using EngagementHQ’s project description:
- Heading and intro
The heading should be no more than five words (e.g. the above heading* is five-words).
The intro should be no more than 25 words (e.g. the above intro is 12 words).
- Feedback period
The next line (bolded) should explain when feedback is open and closed (one line).
- Background (context)
Clearly explain what the project is about and why it’s important for people to have their say (one paragraph).
- Embed a video or link to further information
If you want more context upfront, embed a video in the project description or a flipbook showing the document that you’re consulting on.
- Email addresses/admin
If you need to provide an email address for people, or reference legislation, the very bottom of the description is a good pace for this.
Choosing the right words for a project descriptions
Key ingredients for engaging project descriptions:
- Active voice sentence construction and plain English and with no redundant words
- Emotive language that appeals to people’s emotions and encourages action.
- Concise and easy-to-understand background information about the project.
- Clearly states how people can get involved and why they should
- Openly explains how people’s feedback will help inform the final decision.
Your intro should give readers an understanding of what the project is in a single sentence. You have about two seconds to get people’s attention, so it’s important to have an active voice and use plain English.
Write the sentence as though you’re explaining it to someone in person. Test the sentence by saying it aloud to yourself and edit as required.
The bulk of the project description (context)
Humans are emotional
Write content that resonates with your audience—appeal to people’s emotions so that they're compelled to engage with your project.
Put away the thesaurus
Use plain language (limit the use of acronyms and abbreviations) that clearly and concisely describes the project and what you want people to do. It requires
much more skill and discipline to write using plain language than to fall back on big words. Using complicated words, phrases or industry-specific terms is a sure way to alienate your audience and create a barrier to participation.
Simple language will improve the consultation process
Plain English is powerful. It promotes the smooth running of a consultation process, helps people to understand the project more quickly and is more accessible to those with lower levels of literacy and those who are not native English speakers.
The inverted pyramid
The inverted pyramid is one of the first things that journalists learn about when being taught how to write a good news story. An inverted pyramid structures a piece of content so that the most important information comes first - this is because people pay more attention when they first see content, wanes in the middle and may never reach the end.
The inverted pyramid is also useful for helping to create clear and concise project descriptions as the writing principles are similar to news articles.
The most important information is always at the top and the least important stuff—admin-type information—should sit at the bottom. This helps to ensure that you don't bury the lede.
Some common mistakes to avoid:
- Scant information on how a project relates to another organisation or project.
- Little indication of how feedback will influence a decision.
- Not appealing to an audience on a deeper level to entice people to provide feedback.
- Heavy use of abbreviations and acronyms (and inconsistent use of).
- Using organisations’ trading names (e.g. ‘Fake City Council is seeking feedback. . .’ instead of using the royal ‘we’).
- Incorrect references to other organisations' reports or names. Double check these and also find out if the referenced organisation has a short-form name—a quick Google search will confirm this
- Truncation of long-winded project descriptions. Truncation makes reading the text cumbersome for the reader. If truncation is deemed unavoidable, it’s likely that you will need to write an article in the Newsfeed tool. Create a hyperlink to the article in the project description.
- Confusing or inconsistent language across project pages/tools.