Here are my top tips to make sure your online content is written in a way that will attract readers. Combine these tips with your subject matter expertise and you have a formula for success.
Before you Start
- Have a clearly defined purpose.
- Define your audience.
- Be sure your topic is of interest to your audience.
- Decide on a style and stick with it. Formal options include the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style. You can also create your own. Using a consistent style makes your site easier to understand.
As you Write
- Keep text brief and simple and use familiar words.
- Start with the main point. Use a header/headline (with verb), summary, and more detailed structure.
- Understand that some readers will only read the headline, others will scan heads and subheads. Make sure there is a message even for people who skim.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms.
- Use active (rather than passive) voice.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short. A paragraph CAN be one sentence.
- Keep content short and focused. Remove excess words when you can.
- 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.
- Don’t ask for more information than you absolutely need.
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.
As needed, explain why you are asking for the information.
Allow users to move forward and backward without losing data.
Provide a clear confirmation page that defines what the user should do/expect next.
Use simple language for error messages.
Make consent options clear and simple.
When You Think You Are Done
After you have followed these tips for writing your online content, 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.