Writing for the web

Most people don’t read web pages word by word. Here are some tips about how to write for the web.

People won’t read all you write

There’s no point writing great big chunks of text or long articles.

No-one is going to read them much, or possibly even at all. Most people don’t read web pages word by word.

They scan and skim – looking for words and sentences that suggest it could be relevant to them – and skipping over everything else.

They’re also not going to spend time scrolling down long pages – frustration will usually set in first.

Short is always best

People read from computer screens in a different way to paper and that means you need to write in a different way.

  • Make it as short as you can. People generally read information from a screen more slowly than in print (up to 25% more slowly in fact), and that can put them off wanting to read lots of information. Short sentences of between 10 and 20 words are best.
  • Review what you’ve written – and then cut as much as you can without making it hard to understand. Web content should as a rule have half the word count of paper equivalents.

That doesn’t mean using jargon, acronyms and abbreviations to make it shorter.

Capture attention

Use scanning to work for you. The first sentence of the paragraph should sell the rest of it. Think of your content as a poster that has to capture the attention of people rushing past and that will help you think of how to capture attention. You should also use:

  • headings that tell people straight away what it’s about
  • sub-headings to break up text – make them explain what’s coming next
  • short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
  • keywords that readers will recognise and be looking for
  • occasional highlights to emphasise a point
  • hyperlinks to take those who really need it to more detail about topics

Sell the content

The top of your page is really valuable. It’s your shop window for attracting people to your information. Don’t waste it with unchanging welcome messages or general blurb.

Story structure

Start with the most important information (who, what, where, when, why – and why is it important?), back that up with the top points and finish with less important information: it helps people choose how much detail they want to know, and still get the important information.

Bullet points can help summarise information well online:

  • start with the most important information
  • back that up with the top points
  • finish with less important information
  • help people choose how much detail they want to know, and still get the important information

Don’t repeat

Make the most of what content is already there – provided it’s any good – by summarising briefly and then linking to it rather than repeating everything it covers. Balance that with making sure that people can understand your page on its own.

Encourage feedback

It’ll help save time and effort if people spot a problem with what you’ve written, fail to understand it and want to tell you what they think of it…


He Knew He Was Right

He Knew He Was Right Book CoverWriting about He Knew He Was Right

I am making my first venture into Trollope having been inspired by A Round-Heeled Woman.

And it reminded me of how intransigent people can be in their relationships with other people – and why.

A brief plot synopsis can be seen on Wikipedia – but what it doesn’t cover is the clever way in which Trollope depicts, through interior monologue, how people come to reason themselves into being so steadfast in their beliefs.

In essence, the plot is a big row about nothing with a lack of reconciliation because each party rationalises its own position and builds themselves a narrative of how they are the injured party and therefore cannot make the first move…

But what should he do? There was, first of all considerations, the duty which he owed to his wife, and the love which he bore her. That she was ignorant and innocent he was sure; but then she was so contumacious that he hardly knew how to take a step in the direction of guarding her from the effects of her ignorance, and maintaining for her the advantages of her innocence. He was her master, and she must know that he was her master. But how was he to proceed when she refused to obey the plainest and most necessary command which he laid upon her? Let a man be ever so much his wife’s master, he cannot maintain his masterdom by any power which the law places in his hands. He had asked his wife for a promise of obedience, and she would not give it to him! What was he to do next? He could, no doubt, at least he thought so, keep the man from her presence. He could order the servant not to admit the man, and the servant would, doubtless, obey him. But to what a condition would he then have been brought! Would not the world then be over for him over for him as the husband of a wife whom he could not love unless he respected her? Better that there should be no such world, than call in the aid of a servant to guard the conduct of his wife!

In fact, so far, the book is entirely about miscommunication. A cautionary tale for all of us involved in the industry!

Bovine Scatology & Kakistocracy

Writing about


And about

Foyle’s Philavery – A Treasury of Unusual Words

Hooray for Christopher Foyle – a good Essex man from near Maldon – and, of course, something to do with a few big bookshops.

I was reminded of this just now (I confess I had forgotten it from this morning!) because I’m in the process of editing something written by an academic colleague.

The thing that reminded me was the question posed by Evan Davis: should we make a point of using obscure words to prolong their existance or should we concentrate on making ourselves understood using say the 800 most commonly-used words?

We certainly claim to have have a good many more words in English than in other languages – but see the Oxford Dictionaries on this….


A system of government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.

Bovine Scatology

For those of you who love a good euphemism, Bovine Scatology is a term
coined by General Norman Schwarzkopf, first heard by the viewing public
at a press briefing on status of the air and ground campaigns during the
Persain Gulf War. The general referred to speculations by various
military pundits, employed by CNN and other news gathering/reporting
organizations, as “bovine scatology”.

Maths Has Always Been my Downfall

Writing about an entry you don’t have permission to view Hmmm – after a glorious 20/20 on the English last week, a paltry 14/20 on the Maths this week. I didn’t understand most of the questions and started to panic. My stomach literally started churning just like it used to at school. I secretly hope … Continue reading “Maths Has Always Been my Downfall”

Writing about an entry you don’t have permission to view

Hmmm – after a glorious 20/20 on the English last week, a paltry 14/20 on the Maths this week.

didn’t understand most of the questions and started to panic. My
stomach literally started churning just like it used to at school.

I secretly hope that it can be explained by numeric dyslexia – but I fear that might be a weak excuse.


When I first got to uni I pointed out posters to my friends.

They looked like this:

I couldn’t see what was wrong with them. I’ve always put this down to being slapdash and not paying attention to detail though.

Anecdote Ends

I got C and 4 grades at GCSE and IB subsid respectively – but I put a lot of effort in.

before we started househunting I couldn’t even say numbers with more
than 4 digits in – honestly tens of thousands just eluded me.

Hmmm – I think I’ll make this post University only!

Continue reading “Maths Has Always Been my Downfall”