Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print; your audience read web pages in a different way to print. Users find on-screen content harder to read and, as a result, they tend to scan pages for what they want rather than read everything, word for word.
You should structure your content with the scan reader in mind. Accept that even the most avid reader will only read about a third of what you write. Think about how to make the most important points stand out.
What to do
- Identify your key messages
What do you want the user to find out from this page? Make this the most obvious part of your content and don’t make the reader wade through the rest of the content to get to it.
- Keep pages short and content concise
You can probably get away with using 50% fewer words than you think you need.
- Keep paragraphs, sentences and words short too
Simplifying your message isn’t about talking down to people; it’s about making your content accessible to everyone.
- Get straight to the point
Tell the user what they need to know in the first paragraph. Then, if you need to, give more detail in subsequent paragraphs.
- Use Multimedia
Pages of just text can be dull, intimidating and inaccessible. If you have appropriate images, video, animation or audio use them!
- Make images relevant to the text
Choose you images carefully – just looking at the picture should tell the same story as the text. Look at the images without the text, do they tell same story?
- Use bullet points
Makes it easier for users to pick out key facts when scan reading.
- Avoid jargon
Don’t assume the user knows what you mean. Always try to use plain English.
- State the obvious
If you want the user to click a link to go to a particular page, the link should say ‘click here to go to a particular page ‘, not just ‘click here’.
- Don’t leave them at a dead end
Where do you want the user to go after this page? How can you make it obvious to the user how to get there?
- Use headings
Headings can break up text into easy-to-read chunks and help to tell the story. Users should be able to get an overview by just reading the headings. If you only read the headings in this box, you should have a good idea about writing for the web!
What not to do
The list of things you shouldn’t do when writing for the web is long and contentious and could put you off before you start. Here are a few of the more important points to think about…
- Avoid floweriness
Never write in a flowery, journalistic, conversational, marketing style – you’re impressing no one. Just write clearly and deliver the facts.
- Don’t be a slave to copy and paste
Don’t use the same text you used in your printed material, on your old website or that you used last year. Approach each piece of content afresh and follow the best practice guidelines.
- PDFs are not a substitute for web content
PDFs are downloadable files, not web pages. They are not as flexible as web pages, are not always search engine friendly and don’t provide users with immediate access to information.
- Don’t waste your first paragraph
Don’t bother telling the user what they will find on the page. They can see for themselves. Your first paragraph needs to get straight down to the facts.
- Don’t oversell your links
Try not to cram too much information into your links. Explain what the user is linking to and then let them link to it to get the information.
- Don’t be a stranger
Make sure you regularly read through your website and remove or update any information that is out of date, no longer relevant or inaccurate.
Best of luck. Let me know how you get on – email@example.com
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