Writing on the web

When writing anything for the web, there are two questions you should ask:

  • Who will read this?
  • Why do they care?

By asking these two questions, you can write pages that engage your target audience in a way they want to be communicated with.

Basic Rules

  • Underlined content should only be used for hyper links
  • Avoid using capital letters as it looks as though you are shouting at your reader (but remember to maintain good grammar)
  • Do not use italics. Italicised text is harder to read, especially for those who have a visual impairment
  • Bullet point lists can be a nice way of displaying a lot of information. It is less visually imposing than a block of text and displays the information in bite-sized chunks.
  • One subject per page, not to confuse the reader and to help search engine optimisation
  • Hyper links such as ‘click here’, ‘follow this link’ or ‘this website’ should be avoided. This will not make sense for people who use a screen reader as they will not know the content of the link. Use terms that explain where the content is taking the reader, for example, you can find information about hyper links by visiting the web design help page.

Content is King

Language is key when writing content on the web. How the content is written, how users may interpret words, consistency across your website and, not forgetting the use of plain English.

A few of my favourite examples of jargon on the web can be found in the image below:

A list of words that are often interpretated differently. e.g. benchmark: a blemish on a bench

Some simple rules to ensure you are using plain English on the web:

  • Short sentences
  • The use of active verbs
  • Use ‘you’ and ‘we’ opposed to ‘the business’
  • Use words that are appropriate for the reader
  • Give clear instruction to the reader to guide the user
  • Use lists where appropriate. Bullet points as people digest them much easier help people scan the content and make the page less intimidating.
  • The use of capital letters, bold text, italics and underlined text should be used with caution in digital media. Capital letters look as though you are shouting at your reader; bold text should be kept for headings only; italics are hard to read on screen and should be avoided; and underline text should only be used for hyperlinks.

A user’s will decide if a web page is right for them in a matter of seconds. The analytics from the Monmouthshire County Council website says readers take less than 10 seconds to decide if they will stay and read the page or leave. Therefore, writers for the web need to consider ways to engage readers at the earliest opportunity and allow clear, concise introductions to pages for readers to decide if the content is right for them.

It is important to ensure your content on the web is accurate and reliable. Information that is wrong is worse than not giving information at all…

Less is more

The ‘less is more’ approach on the web usually helps readers digest information easier. Why write lots of words when you can say it in less?

Consider where on the page readers have to start scrolling to view content and what information is available above this point.

The ‘less is more’ approach says to:

  • Cut the words down to a minimum- be concise and direct
  • Break up text into short blocks
  • Put the most important information first
  • Use bullet point lists where appropriate

It is important never to copy and paste from a paper document onto your page without adapting it. Print media and digital media are two different worlds. People spend much longer reading from paper than from a screen so use the ‘less is more’ approach to writing content on the web to keep pages short and to the point.

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