Writing for the web

Last updated: 21 April, 2010


Just like publishers and newspapers, TA has an editorial style guide that covers everything from capitalisation of words to commas to the difference between an en dash, em dash and a hyphen.

Consistency also applies to images. Avoid random images on your site – it’s distracting to users and it looks messy.

Cut out the jargon

Users hate jargon. Words that we use every day that have meaning to us may completely confuse people from outside this organisation. Also, using overly complex words is a big turn off, so keep it simple.

If users have to stop and try and figure out what a word means they may also decide to try a different site.

Breaking through the wall

Few people read every word on each page, most scan web pages looking for the content they require, so keep this in mind when laying out content on each page.

If users are greeted by a page that has no pictures, headings, paragraphs or bullet points, they are effectively looking at a brick wall of words. And, chances are, they will leave your site.

Break up your copy with sub-headings, present lists in bulleted form, use tables and graphs where practical, and add in a picture if you have one.

Also, when writing, employ the inverted pyramid style – the most important idea first, followed by the next most important and so on. And limiting each paragraph to one idea will ensure paragraphs don’t become too long.

These strategies will help your users navigate your content and find what they are looking for quicker.

Halve it

Web users are on a mission. Most people come to a site looking for a particular piece of information or hoping to carry out a certain task. To help your users achieve their goal you need to make the content on your site easily accessible.

As mentioned earlier, users tend to scan web pages rather than read word for word, like they would a printed publication. This is the main reason why written content on the web needs to be treated differently to printed publications.

When publishing a printed publication on the web, the general rule is to halve it by 50 per cent. Try re-writing it using the inverted pyramid style and employ sub-headings, bullets and paragraphs, and your users will be able to navigate the content on your site better. And there’s a greater chance that they will return to your site.

Link me up

Make your links meaningful by using active statements as opposed to ‘click here’. For example, which link is more descriptive?

Most users are capable of identifying links and research shows that users are more likely to click a link that is explanatory.

Like to know more?

Try reading Janice (Ginny) Redish’s book, Letting go of the words, Morgan Kaufman, 2007.

This book has some great advice on writing for the web, how to structure websites and designing web pages.

Further Reading

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