Writing for the web is different to writing for print. Key guidelines:
1) Users don’t read
People use websites; they don’t read them. Web users are focused on a specific goal, they want a piece of information or to complete a task e.g. book an appointment. They do not want to “settle down with a good website”.
2) Important stuff first
The most important information (to the user, not to the editor!) must be given priority. The top of the page, the area visible without scrolling, should be reserved for the most important information, with the less important stuff & the detail relegated down the page.
Headings & paragraphs should start with information carrying words not blah-blah.
3) Easy on the eye
Most web users scan and web pages need to be structured to help with this. Long paragraphs of dense text are difficult to scan. Web pages need headings, sub-headings, bullets, short paragraphs and space to make it easier for users to find the information they want.
When emphasising text use bold or a colour (not colours!). Underlining & ALL CAPS should not be used and italics can be difficult to read. Links are another form of emphasis that draw the eye. They should state what they link to and never “Click here”. Emphasis within the main text should be limited as too much is distracting to users scanning the page.
4) Remove redundancy
Unnecessary words should be removed. Web users are looking for specific information, they are not visiting to read prose. Avoid padding; remove repetition & waffle.
5) Mind your language
Keep it simple, use plain English. Avoid jargon, slang & clichés. Limit your use of similes, metaphors & humour. Web writing should be conversational rather than formal. Use the active voice (“Actor does X to Object”) in sentences rather than the passive voice (“Object has X done to it by Actor”).
Finally, know your users and always have them in mind when writing. A website must meet the needs of its users and to achieve this web editors must understand what their audience(s) want.
If you want to know more about writing for the web then I recommend the following:
- Writing for the Web Guidelines and research written by web usability expert Jakob Nielsen.
- Training: a 1-day Writing for the Web course by Netskills (possibly delivered by me!).
- Concise book: Writing for the Web (Chambers Desktop Guide)
Image: Keyboard 2 by spadgy on Flickr