Digital Writing for the Elderly

by Courtney Zawistowski

Elderly women enjoying online content.

Elderly women enjoying online content.

When we think of digital media, things like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube might come to mind. And these websites, while very popular and useful, often pander to younger generations who grew up in the digital age and are more tech savvy.

However, there are plenty of other online users who don’t fit into these categories. For instance: our grandparents! Even if your grandma doesn’t have an Instagram, she probably still relies on the web for some things. Whether it’s online banking, or a casserole recipe, there is plenty of digital content for the elderly to utilize and enjoy.

If you’re building a website that is mainly geared toward the elderly, or if you’ve just been hired to run AARP’s online writing, or even if you just want to publish an online article that you hope to share with Great Aunt Margaret, then I have some tips for you.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when writing digital content for elderly online users:

Don’t Use Slang

Considering The Huffington Post had to write an article decoding millennial slang for middle-aged parents , using slang will most likely not benefit your reader. Not only do I never hear my grandparents use phrases like “on fleek,” but I also don’t hear them use technology-related terms like “hashtag” and “Tweet”. This means they most likely don’t use text speak either, so you should probably save the “LOLs” and “WTFs” for instant messages with friends.

It is also advised that you avoid profanity. That’s a good rule for writing in any professional context, really.

Don’t Insult Their Intelligence

This is a great piece of advice that Clint Osterholz gives in his blog post about the same topic.

If you feel that something needs to be explained in simplistic terms because of a generation gap, then feel free to do that. Even so, try to find a way to simplify things without necessarily “dumbing them down.” Just because the iPhone might have come out the year your reader turned 60 doesn’t mean they know absolutely nothing about technology and the online community. They are reading your content, after all.

Make Use of Audio and Text Settings

Without doing too much stereotyping, remember that your elderly readers might not have super awesome eyes and ears, as Smashing Magazine makes note of.

As far as text settings, go for larger font sizes. You can even type in all caps to make certain text easier to read. The Neilsen Norman Group emphasizes the importance of this.

For audio, make sure it gets loud. Additionally, you can create the option of an audio version of your text content in case your elderly reader has better hearing than vision.

These tips should be enough to get started with writing your digital content for older generations. If you need any more tips, just ask one of your elders or relatives, and see if they have any advice! And make sure to share their tips with me in the comments!


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