Readers approach online text differently than printed text. They expect fast access to information, which is why they typically come to a website with specific ideas or words already in mind related to their search. As a result, users first scan for those words or phrases before beginning to actually read. Apply the following nine best practices to write your web content to help users quickly find what they are searching for:
- Make it short.
- Less is more.
- Cut unnecessary words.
- Write simple, short, straightforward sentences.
- Start each paragraph with the key point.
- Write in the inverted pyramid style: The first paragraph should be no longer than one sentence and should present the facts of the following content in 26 words or less; the remaining paragraphs should present the facts descending from most to least important.
- Use bullet points.
- Make the content important to the visitor.
- Make every word count.
- Write in active voice—use strong, active verbs.
- Make the text easy to read, as if it is a conversation.
- Run spell check.
- Add contextual hyperlinks.
- Use links to direct users to primary source information rather than including it in your content.
- Add layers of information by linking to them instead of displaying all information on a single page.
- Do not ever use “click here.” Select a word or phrase that most accurately describes what the user will find upon clicking a link.
- Make text digestible in “chunks.”
- Semantically structuring your content gives the user a quick understanding of how the content elements relate and which concepts are major versus minor.
- Use headings to draw the eye to main ideas and minor ideas; write short headings that describe the content contained below them.
- Use bulleted lists to present a series of ideas or thoughts
- Avoid footnotes or endnotes in web content.
- Use MCC’s Writing Guide for Public Documents to write content for the web.
- Web content must be in plain language.
Are additional resources available on writing for the web?
Excellent resources for an in-depth look at writing for the web include:
- Redish, Janice (Ginny). Letting Go of the Words. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2007; and
- Krug, Steve. Don't Make Me Think, second edition. New Riders Publishing, 2005.