Writing for the Web

Writing for the web is different than writing for print. People visit websites because they have a task they want to complete. It is important to ensure that your content helps visitors complete their tasks. This section can help you with your web writing.

Keep short and to the point

  • Do not say in 20 words what can be said in 10.
  • Avoid sentences that require complex punctuation.
  • Lines: approximately 10 words (50–70 characters).
  • Paragraphs: approximately 50 words
  • Pages: 600–700 words, rarely longer than 1,000

Focus on top tasks

Use the language of your audience (e.g. “Check quota” or “locate wireless hot spots”)

Use Headings and links to make your content scannable.

Use plain language (e.g. “use” not “usage”) 

Use meaningful words for links – links are very important

Writing meaningful links: Don't "click here"

Write links on your site like they are headings.

Links are a “Call to action” – when they click on it they will leave that page

It's the most ubiquitous yet unhelpful 2-word phrase on the Web: Click here. You see it everywhere:

  • For more information about our amazing product, click here.
  • Click here for the latest headlines.
  • To contact us, click here.

So, what's the problem with "click here"?

    1. "Click here" doesn't tell anyone about anything

Imagine your link on its own out of the page's context. Does it tell you anything? What does a link named "Click here" or "here" or "visit this website" tell you about what's on the other side of that link?

Your link text must be meaningful and descriptive. A link named "Contact Admissions", for example, makes it pretty clear that it will take you to Admissions contact information.

    1. "Click here" is hard to find

      Like it or not, nobody wants to read your online content. But don't take it personally; it's because people don't really read online, they scan. They're looking for something specific and they want to find it quickly and get out. It's your job to help them and not waste their time.

      Using meaningful link text rather than "click here" makes it easy for people to quickly see links on your pages that might be of interest to them. Consider the following examples--which one is easier to scan?

      [Hint: It's the last one!]

      • To fill out our application form, click here.
      • The Application form page is where you can fill out the application form.
      • To fill out our application form, go to http://www.example.com/applicationform?this-link-is-so-long-sdflkj-1231255838499320&itjustkeepsgoing.html.
      • Apply now!

    1. "Click here" is a pain for those with visual impairments

Many blind users, or those with visual impairments, use screen readers (like JAWS or Window Eyes) to read web pages. Just as sighted users scan a page, screen reader users can scan a page for links. They can do this by getting their screen reader to read out just the hyperlinks on the page. Imagine if all the screen reader listed was a dozen "click here" links! How would anyone know what to select?

Again, using descriptive link text solves this problem!

Writing Content that is Scannable

The best content is scannable—visitors scan for their “care words”

As heartbreaking as it sounds, nobody wants to read your online content. No matter how polite, beautifully written, and grammatically correct your content is, it is really just getting in the way. Nobody is browsing your website out of boredom.

Don't take it personally, though--it's not your fault! Nobody really reads anything online: They scan.

Why do people scan websites instead of reading them?

  • They're trying to get something specific done
  • They're short on time
  • They're short on patience
  • They're looking for the magic link

The best content is the content that helps someone get something done and get the heck out of there. In other words, the best content is scannable.

Here's how to scan-ify your content:

  1. Edit, edit, edit, delete, delete, delete!  – You have to edit your content. Look at every single sentence--every single word--critically and honestly. Does it have to be there or is it just getting in the way? Do you really need to start that paragraph with "Please note that..." or "We are pleased to announce..."? Do you even really need that paragraph at all? Get to the point already!

    So go ahead: Delete something. It's exhilarating! And your visitors will thank you for not wasting their time.
  2. Use bullet points
    • Lists
    • are
    • easier to scan
    • than paragraphs
  3. Use sub-sections and headings – Break up your content into sub-sections with clear, concise headings.
  4. Write meaningful links – Links are the most important part of a page. Write links that mean something.
  5. Break up those paragraphs – So you've deleted as much as you can, used lists and sub-headings, and you've still got some paragraphs. Now what? Break up those paragraphs into even smaller paragraphs so they're easier to scan.
  6. Use Bold sparingly but strategically – Making something bold really helps it stand out for someone scanning a page. But if you make an entire paragraph bold nothing stands out and everything is harder to read.
  7. Use meaningful icons (where appropriate!) – Adding an icon to designate a critical task can help give it meaning, context, and scannability.

Writing in the Second Person

You are talking to someone

When you talk to someone in person, do you refer to them in the third person? If you were asking a friend to go see a movie, would you ask them like this?

  • A friend who wants to go see a movie with me should let me know.

Or would you ask them like this?

  • Wanna go see a movie?

Treat your Web content the same way. The Web is not a cold, dead place! The Web is alive with people having conversations. You are talking to real human beings when you put something online.

Write your Web content in the second person. Use You and Your and imperative verbs.

A phrase like "Students who wish to register in Biology should log in" is served up better as "Log in to register in Biology". It's not "rude" or "bossy" to use imperative language on the Web; it's actually friendlier.

No matter who you are or what your content is about, your website is not a policy manual repository.

Remember that you are talking to real people and your Web content will be a thousand times better.

Web Writing Resources

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