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Writing for the Web

Best practices

The way users read on the web is different from the way they read printed pages. For most people, reading onscreen is tiring for the eyes, and 25 per cent slower, so users scan the page until they find information relevant to their search and then they read.

Create scannable pages by using:

  • highlighted keywords
  • meaningful sub-headings (rather than "clever" ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph
  • inverted pyramid style (start with the conclusion)
  • lean text (short paragraphs, short sentences, short words)

Get to the goods

The web is a user-driven medium. People want to complete a task, and do it quickly. If a website is difficult to navigate or read, they'll leave.

  • Focus on the user, not on yourself. Users are self-absorbed and task-focused. Make sure they can complete their task, quickly and easily.

  • Keep content short and to the point. Consider what information the user is seeking and make it immediately available. Avoid excessive introductory text – phrases like "welcome to this web page."

  • Break text up into easily digestible "chunks" with clear, consise headings. Get used to writing meaningful titles and headings.

  • Bold relevant words and use bulleted lists to make it easy for users to scan content.

  • Use plain language. Even the most sophisticated users appreciate straightforward writing. Keep your sentence structure simple and avoid uncommon words, slang and jargon.

  • Keep visitors engaged with a "call to action" on every page. Users should be guided to the next natural step on the site.

  • Hyperlinks should be descriptive and explain the action. See hyperlinks and PDFs.

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." — Mark Twain

Best practices for web writing

Learn more about how users behave on the web and how they read online. Check out research findings on web writing from usability expert Jakob Nielsen.