Writing for the Web

Image of writer and keyboardWriting for the Web is different from writing for print. Why?  People read differently on the Web than they do when reading print. When viewing a new page, readers look at headings and subheadings, browse for hyperlinks and keywords. In other words, they scan!

So how do you convey your message?  By recognizing the needs of the user and making the copy easy to scan!

A lot of testing has been done on how long it takes for the average web surfer to decide if they want to read your page or move on.  Most viewers have made a decision in three to five seconds [Source: Nielsen: Alertbox].

It’s your job to present the information in such a manner that you grab the web surfer’s attention before they make a decision to click away.

Image of KISSThe following guidelines from web content expert Erin Anderson in Interact with Web Standards will ensure your web pages are easy to scan and help you capture that elusive surfer:

Paragraphs should be concise
Each paragraph should only convey one idea and be less than 60 words.  As the reader scans, they will only miss one idea if they skip the paragraph.

Headlines should be short
Headings let the reader know that they are in the right place. They need to be engaging and use key words. They should be eight words less.

Subheadings should be brief
Subheadings, like headings, summarize the content that follows. They should be no longer than 12 to 14 words.

Use bulleted lists
Bullet lists can help you cut unnecessary copy and make it easier to read.

Don’t use numbered lists
Numbered lists should be used sparingly and only where they provide meaning like describing the steps in a process or a top 10 list.

Use headings to guide the reader through the page
Strategically place headings and subheadings can show hierarchy and the relative importance of the topics. They draw a reader’s eye and help them navigate the page. Also, good headings help web search engines improve your findability.

And finally, as with all writing, you need to use good web writing form. Lead with active words, use simple sentences and be succinct.

For more words of wisdom and best practices for writing for the web, check out these additional resources:

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About Susan
I'm a wife, mother and student living in the suburbs of Atlanta. After 20 years in corporate IT, I am currently working for a non-profit as Director of Operations.

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