Writing for the web
Content is the key to a good web page and is critical for an effective and usable website. Always think of the audience first when you are writing content. Who are they? Are they generalists or specialists? How do they speak? How much time do they have? What writing style will best suit their level of education?
Style and substance
- If your readers are likely to be generalists, then avoid jargon and ‘tech-speak’ at all costs.
- For an audience who will be specifically from your field, you can get a little more technical, but be sure to be straightforward.
Use plain English:
- Cut out long, formal words and use simple and friendly words.
- Use positive rather than negative words.
- Make your writing a reflection of a clear thought process.
Less is more:
- Use short, descriptive sentences, short paragraphs and short articles.
- Remember writing for the web is not like writing for print - people scan web pages a lot faster and read a lot less than if they would if they were reading printed pages.
- Summarise your content – if people want to know more they will contact you and ask you.
- Make sure your information is grammatically correct and mistake-free.
- Check your:
- Make double sure you proofread everything very carefully before putting it on the web.
- Separate your information into bite-sized pieces.
- Have only one concept per paragraph.
- Use clear section headings for each chunk of information.
- Use no more than seven to nine paragraphs in a section (if the section needs to be longer, the information needs to be split up into two sections).
- Where you can, use numbered or bulleted lists instead of paragraphs.
- Never have more than seven to nine numbers or bullets in a list (should you need more, use sub-bullets or two lists).
Headings and text:
- Make your headings count; they should be used as stepping stones to help those readers who skim your document.
- Make headings short and descriptive and use them to reinforce the key message of that paragraph or section.
- Do not underline headings. The only text that should ever be underlined on a web page is a hyperlink.
- If you have a long page with several sections, create a table of contents at the top with hyperlinks to each section heading.
- Use images to help break up large, unfriendly chunks of text. They also make your page more visually appealing.
- Make sure your images are an appropriate size (between 200px and 650px wide depending on what the image is for) and are of good quality.
- Don’t use too many images on a page - between one and three per article is a good number, depending on the purpose of the article.
- Use hyperlinks to point to other relevant pages or links within the same web page or elsewhere on your website.
- Don't ever hyperlink the word "here" - as in "click here". Instead, hyperlink an existing phrase from the copy that indicates what the content of the hyperlink is likely to be. An example would be: “For more help, contact the IT Helpdesk”. In this case, the link goes to an email address or a call logging form.
- Make your hyperlinks count; describe where they are going to take the reader and what the article is about.
Make sure your website is designed to be accessible to the disabled.
- When uploading images, always use the alt attribute to describe the function or subject of each visual.
- Use clear page organisation as described above: sections, headings, lists, and consistent structure.
- Consider colour blindness when choosing images and a colour scheme. Would your site work in monochrome? (You can check online using Visicheck).
- Always make potentially inaccessible information available in more than one place:
- If any important information is conveyed using moving elements, make sure it is repeated elsewhere.
- Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.