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Department of Communications

Writing for the Web

It is true that most people visit web sites just to see the really cool graphics, Flash, and JavaScripts that are there. However, someone will only come to your site so many times if all you have is cool graphics.

If you really want users to come back again and again you need real content! This means learning how to write for the web.

  • Writing for the web is different from writing for print.
  • If you simply move your print documents onto the web, you are not using the medium to its best advantage.

How do users read on the Web?

  • They don’t. They scan.
  • 79% of Web users scan pages, they do not read word-by-word.
  • Make sure your documents pass the scannability test using the following guidelines.

Content

  • Write Relevant Content:
    • If it doesn't relate to your site or page topic, leave it out.
    • Web readers want the right information, right now.
  • Only One Idea per Paragraph:
    • Web pages need to be concise and to-the-point.
    • Use short, meaty paragraphs (like news writing) instead of long rambling ones.
  • Put Conclusions at the Beginning:
    • Think of an inverted pyramid when you write.
    • Get to the point in the first paragraph, then expand upon it in a second paragraph.
  • Use Action Words:
    • Tell your readers what to do.
    • Avoid the passive voice. Keep the flow of your pages moving.
  • Write short sentences:
    • Sentences should be as concise as you can make them.
    • Use only the words you need to get the essential information across.

Format

  • Use numbered or bulleted lists instead of paragraphs to slow down the user's scanning eye and draw attention to important points
  • Use headings and sub-headings to help your readers move to the section that is important to them
  • Avoid highlighting entire sentences or paragraphs
  • Highlight only key information words
  • Do not use underline to highlight keywords (it can be confused as a link)
  • Use Bold rather than Italics to highlight keywords (Italics is hard to read; only use it for captions or book titles)
  • Colored text or colored backgrounds can also be used for keywords
  • Use keywords for search engine optimization
  • Hyperlinks do double duty and will stand out since they are different color and underlined
  • Do not use "click here" for links - these two words completely destroy the flow of any document and are not accessible
  • DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS ALL BOLDED AND ALL UNDERLINED, EVER. IT IS TOO DIFFICULT TO READ.

Keep It Simple

  • Keep It Short:
    • This is the most important difference between writing for the web and writing for books or magazines.
  • Use Simple Words:
    • Write in the most basic terms possible like you are writing for someone who knows nothing about your subject (most likely they won't).

Proofread

  • Spelling and grammar errors send readers away from your pages
  • You MUST proofread EVERYTHING you post to the Web
  • Use a software that has spelling and grammar check
  • Have someone else proofread your writing