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…