Writing for the Web

When you are writing content for your website you want the information to be easy for your visitors to find and use. To help visitors use your site, consider the following:

Are you reaching your audience?

  • Do you know the audience you are trying to reach?
    Parents, children, volunteers, legislators, etc. 
  • Are you serving more than one audience?
  • What are users looking for when they visit your site?
  • How can you attract them?
  • What will encourage them to return?

When you are writing:

  • Consider both what you want to share with your audience and what your audience will be looking for when they visit your site.
  • Provide meaningful, useful information. Be a resource of information. Provide links to other useful resources and sites. Don't dilute you site by providing information your audiences won't be interested in.
  • Provide timely resources. Respond to your audience by anticipating their needs and responding to their requests for resources. It can help to keep a monthly content calendar. I find it helpful to look at Google Analytics reports to see what times of year people are searching for specific keywords on my sites.
  • Look for old content to remove, including broken links and out-of-date text, images and documents.
  • Be Yourself. Write conversationally, for example try writing the same way you speak to a friend. You'll write more concisely and be more engaging.
  • Writing to your audience: Use you instead of I, we or they. For example: this workshop will help you learn how to use less sugar when canning pears.
  • Use spell check for spelling and grammar whenever you make an update.
  • Use accessible content. When using images, audio, and animations always provide alternate content for inaccessible content. Learn more about accessibility.

Make your pages scannable

People rarely read web pages word-by-word; useit.com found 79 percent of test users always scan websites; only 16 percent read word-by-word. Users read email and eNewsletters even more abruptly.

In addition, reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper - so the more you can increase the scannability of your content - the easier it will be for visitors to use your site.

  • Be succinct: write no more than 50% of the text you would have used in a print publication.
  • Write for scannability: don't require users to read long continuous blocks of text.
  • Organize content by topic. Provide a hierarchy for your content with larger topic at the top more detail below. Try writing down topics on note cards and re-arrange them until the hierarchy makes sense.
  • Divide content between pages. Providing detailed background information by including information on secondary pages.
  • Chunk content into bite-sized pieces. A hundred words in one paragraph is hard to read on a screen, instead try breaking the paragraph into two or three short paragraphs and a bulleted list.
  • Write short, tight paragraphs. Edit your work so it uses the fewest words possible and without distorting the meaning. Try:
    • Sticking with one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
    • Edit your text according to the "inverse pyramid" principle. Start with a short conclusion so that users can get the gist of the page at a glance. And include details below.
    • Use short paragraphs, they are easier to read.
  • Use bulleted lists when possible to make the content easier to scan.
  • Title main ideas. Use a title for each thought (or paragraph). Titles should be simple, informative and literal.
  • Use bold for emphasis, but try to use it sparingly. Using bold on more than 3-5 words will make the text harder to read.
  • Use descriptive text for links so visitors know what they will be getting when the click on a link. Don't use "Click here" or "Read more." Instead use "Download the spiced pear recipe" or "read our January newsletter"
  • Consider your menus: set your menu up like a table of content so the menu reflects the website and helps people understand where they are on your site.