Writing for the Web
People read differently on the web. To get your message across, you need to write differently too.
How is it different?
Most people don't read word-for-word on the web. They skim, they scan, they quickly search the page for the specific information they're seeking.
There are two key reasons why we read this way online:
1. It's physically more difficult.
- Reading a screen is slower than reading a printed page.
- It's more fatiguing to the eyes.
2. Web users are on a mission.
- They're busy multi-taskers with no time to waste.
- They're on a quest for specific information.
Good web writing is...
- Scannable. Break up long paragraphs into shorter ones, and use bulleted lists and helpful subtitles to help make your content easier to absorb at a glance.
- Inverted. Put results, conclusions or must-know information at the top of the screen, not way down below the scroll line.
- Concise. Eyes fatigue more quickly when reading long articles online vs. on paper, so keep it short. A good rule of thumb is to keep it half the length you'd use for a printed piece.
- Focused. Don't overload a single web page with multiple topics. If you have information to convey on many different subjects, consider a top-level page that quickly directs "traffic" to separate sub-pages for each topic.
- Real. Avoid flowery language and obvious marketing messages. Keep your messages direct and your language objective and honest.
- Error-free. Ask someone else to proofread. Even if your spelling is perfect, a second pair of eyes may notice things that are ambiguous to a reader who doesn't know the material as well as you do.
Web writing resources
These links will help you learn more about effective writing for the web:
Reading on the Web
Learn about people's online reading habits, courtesy of web usability guru Jakob Nielsen.
Why Writing Like a College Student Will Kill You Online
The academic writing style has its place in the ivy-coated corners of the world. But it doesn’t belong on the web.
Attack of the Zombie Copy
Want to write a web page people will actually read? In the latest issue of A List Apart, Erin Kissane argues that you need to get out the axe and start chopping.
Fruit Flies Like a Banana: Writing Unambiguously
ClickZ.com's Kathy Henning examines five ways that ambiguity can creep into your writing.
The 5-Second Test
Not sure if your page is communicating your most important message? Try the 5-Second Test.
Web Writing That Works
Guidelines from the writers of the book Hot Text.