Writing for the Web

Writing for the Web

Text that works best on the Web is text that gets to the point fast and makes it easy for readers to pick out key information. People rarely read web pages word for word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. Eye-tracking studies show that users:

  • scan to see whether the content is relevant.
  • are more likely to scan the top of the page than the bottom.
  • look at headings, boldfaced terms, and images.

Scanning requires less brainpower than reading. Concise sentences that convey their point quickly are more likely to grab visitors than long, complex sentences and are more likely to entice people to explore further.  Clear concise writing will also improve the rankings of your pages within search engines.  Good writing is the foundation of search engine optimization.

Content

  • Make sure content is relevant
    Keep your audience in mind. Web users want information, and unless you provide the information they’re looking for, they will move on no matter how good the writing may be. If someone has come to your web page, they have made a deliberate decision to be there, now they are in an active, doing mode. They want to dig deeper and get details. Make the details available to them in a concise, easy to read manner.
  • Get to the point
    Web users typically give a website eight seconds to capture their attention. If they can’t find what they’re looking for by then, they will leave. This means you need to get the point in your content; no meandering intros or unnecessary “welcome to my website.”
  • Use inverted pyramid
    Think of an inverted pyramid when you write for the web. Put the most important information at the top—get to the point in the first paragraph, then expand upon it. Users will decide whether to read on, based on the first paragraph.
    • this is also important for searches, as it will rank your most important content first.
  • One idea per paragraph
    Web pages need to be concise and to-the-point. People don’t read Web pages, they scan them, so having short paragraphs of relevant content is best.
  • Write like you talk
    The web is more informal and conversational than print material. Write content that has personality and engages the reader. Don’t dress up content and make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  • Use active language
    Users consider the site to be talking to them. Say, “We offer Spanish courses.” rather than “Spanish courses are offered.”
  • Use familiar words
    Use words that are familiar to, and used frequently by, your typical users. Words that are more frequently seen and heard are better and more quickly recognized.
  • Don’t use jargon or unfamiliar acronyms and abbreviations
    Many terms are familiar to people on campus, but not to the web users. Acronyms and abbreviations should be used sparingly and must be defined in order to be understood by all users. Acronyms and abbreviations are typically defined on first mention, but remember that users may easily miss the definition if they scroll past it or enter the page below where the acronym or abbreviation is defined.
  • Word Choice,keywords and phrases
    Unlike academic writing, do not be afraid to reuse words. These keywords will improve search engine opmization. Use keywords in your headlines, subheads, and copy. Your content is going to be indexed by search engines. Keywords help search engines find your relevant content and deliver it to the users searching the web. Keywords are phrases that you could imagine your audience using to search for your content.

Format

  • Use short sentences
    Sentences should be as concise as you can make them. Use only the words you need to get the essential information across. To enhance the readability of text, a sentence should not contain more than twenty words.
  • Make short paragraphs
    To optimize reading comprehension, minimize the number of sentences in paragraphs. To enhance the readability, a paragraph should not contain more than six sentences.
  • Use lists instead of paragraphs
    Lists are easier to scan than paragraphs, especially if you keep them short. Limit list items to seven words. Studies show that people can only reliably remember 7–10 things at a time. By keeping your list items short, it helps readers remember them. Lists are easier to get your important words into search engine optimization for better search results.
  • Use headings and subheads
    Ideally, any site page should begin with a relevant headline—one that describes the subject matter of the paragraphs that follow. The headline should be contained on a single line if at all possible. Content should continue with a subhead and a paragraph or two in succession. Subheadings make the text more scannable. Readers will move to the section of the document that is most useful for them, and these internal cues make it easier for them to do this.
  • Make headlines clear and catchy
    The headline may be the only thing a reader sees from your web content. The headline needs to be clear, memorable, and to the point.
  • Capitalize words in Headlines
    Excepting prepositions (of, to, for, is) and the words “and” and “the”, all major words in a headline should be capitalized.
  • Include links within the copy
    Links are another way Web readers scan pages. They stand out from normal text, and provide more cues as to what the page is about. Use the links to push readers towards other interesting content within the site. Look for linking opportunities within your content, but keep links relevant and don’t use too many.
  • Don’t overuse punctuation
    Excessive punctuation should be left out of most sentences on the web. If a reader sees a sentence with more than one comma, the sentence becomes harder to scan and therefore more likely to turn a reader off. More advanced punctuation such as semi-colons and colons should be avoided completely by starting new sentences instead.
  • Bold type for emphasis
    Use bold type to highlight certain phrases, words, or sentences, particularly in longer blocks of copy. Use it to identify key points so the user can make sense of the content while skimming the page. Do not use all upper case or underline for emphasis.
  • Vary the left margin
    A long content block with all paragraphs lined up neatly, flush to the left margin, is going to be more of a challenge to read than one with variety. Use indents, bullet points, quotes, numbered lists, pictures, and videos to break things up and keep the eye interested.
  • Proofread everything
    Whenever you put something online, it’s there for everyone to see. Content that has typos, grammar errors, or inaccurate information becomes immediately suspect, and the user may leave the site entirely and never come back. This is especially important for an educational institution.

 

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