Writing for the Web

Here are my top tips to help keep your website and electronic communications succinct and informative for your readers.

Before you start, remember:

  • All content should have a clearly defined purpose.
  • All content should have a clearly defined audience.
  • All content should be of interest to your audience.
  • Decide on a style and stick with it. Options include the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and others. You can also create your own. Using a consistent style makes your site easier to understand. Common style issues include:
    • Capitalization rules
    • Handling of dates and times
    • Use or non-use of serial commas
    • Picking one spelling for words with multiple common spellings such as website and e-mail

As you write:

  • Use a dictionary. Spell according to the first spelling listed in that source.
  • Keep text brief and simple and use familiar words.
  • Start with the main point. Use a header/headline (with verb), summary, and more details structure. Many readers will not read more than the first paragraph. All readers scan first to see if they want to read more.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Use active (rather than passive) voice.
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Keep content short. Each page should have one main point/message. If you have multiple messages, you should have multiple pages.
  • Use heads and subheads profusely. Heads and subheads help readers scan for information that is important to them.
  • Use bullets. Bullets help organize and call attention to information.
  • Create link text that is more helpful than “click here” and “read more.” Links are a different color and/or underlined so they jump out to users. Users should be able to predict where each link will take them based on the text of the link. Use verb-based links centered on what the user will find or accomplish.
  • Use links judiciously. Links to other sites increase your web site credibility, but too many links can distract and overwhelm your web visitors.
  • Vary paragraph lengths. Having varying paragraph lengths makes your page look more lively.
  • Use images to illustrate. Make sure images, charts and graphs are clear at a glance and communicate the same information as the surrounding text.

When You Create Forms

  • Make instructions brief and simple.
  • Form fields should be laid out vertically (with the exception of fields that form a logical unit such as “city, state, zip code.”
  • Place field labels just above or to the left of each field.
  • Use one word whenever possible for field labels.
  • All form pages should fit within one screen.
  • As needed, define why you are asking for the information.
  • Provide NEXT and BACK buttons at the bottom of each page.
  • Allow users to move forward and backward without losing data.
  • Do not include popups or links to other pages (with the exception of privavy policy or terms and conditions).
  • Provide a clear confirmation page that defines what the user should do next.
  • Use simple language for error messages and provide clear direction for correct input.
  • Make consent options clear and simple.

When You Think You Are Done

Find some testers who represent your target audience and who have not been involved with the content development. Have them review your content and provide comments. Act on their suggestions. 

One thought on “Writing for the Web