Web writing is different from other writing. Brief and to the point, web writing has to grab your reader quickly. It demands shorter paragraphs, terser sentences and shorter words. Need to explain things? You can take your time in press releases and bylined articles, but not on the web.
When people read a website, they scan information. They don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for something they’re interested in. For example, if they can’t find your contact number in the Nav bar under Contact Us or at the bottom of the homepage, chances are they won’t contact you.
When I was researching information for this topic, I googled “Writing for the Web.” One of the best links I found was from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., which not only publishes web writing tips, but also their own stylebook.
So without further ado, I will keep it short. I added my own subheads to some of the most important tips that I found on Hampshire College’s list. Here are 7 of their web writing tips:
- Be brief. Use short paragraphs. Large blocks of text can look like walls, and act as such to the user. Research has shown that short, concise paragraphs and bulleted lists (no more than 7 bullets) work best for web use.
- Get to the point quickly. Your first paragraph is the most important one. As such, it should be brief, clear, and to the point in order to quickly engage the user. One sentence paragraphs are encouraged for the first paragraph.
- Journalism 101 rules. Write in an inverted pyramid style. Place the most important information at the top, extra info toward the bottom. (Yeah, everything I learned in journalism class is still the best way to write!)
- Use subheads. In most cases, it’s best to use subheadings to clarify the subject of various sections on a page. Users want to skim and scan information. Headings help this process exponentially. Check out Hampshire’s admissions page as one example.
- Don’t say “Welcome to X Company.” I still see this, especially on PR firms’ websites. Don’t waste space welcoming people to the page. There is no need, and most users ignore any welcome text as filler. Get to the meat – that is what they came for.
- A thousand cuts. Just when you think you are done, look again. Cut, cut, and cut your text until what is left is the most essential message.
- Avoid “Click here.” Make your links contextual. Use part of the actual referencing sentence as the link, or hyperlink selected text within the sentence. I’ve also seen “Learn more,” followed by a colon and the link.
For additional information, here are some resources:
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