Writing for the web

People rarely read webpages word by word. In fact, 79% scan webpages, picking out individual words and sentences. When writing for the web, use the following to help people scan your webpages for the information they want:

  • Keep sentences short and simple. As a rule, semicolons don't belong on websites.

  • Include only one idea per paragraph. Keep paragraphs to three sentences.

  • Use subheadings, and make sure they're clear and relevant. Subheadings give readers a quick overview of what's on the page.

  • Highlight keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others).

  • Bullet-point parallel words, phrases or clauses—especially information that's important. Bullet points not only cut down on words and organize content but also stand out from surrounding text.

  • Put important information at the beginning of sentences and important sentences at the beginning of paragraphs.

  • Use transition words whenever possible, such as "but," "so," "and," "also," and "because."

  • Choose shorter words whenever possible, for example, "lie" for "prevaricate" or "recline."

  • Avoid circumlocutions (e.g., "at a later time" for "later").

  • Whenever possible, use the active voice (e.g., "John threw the ball." instead of "The ball was thrown by John.").

Best practices for writing for the web:

  1. If you are using print materials for the Web and do not intend to re-write them for the Web using the best practices above then convert the print material to a PDF that people can download to print and read offline. Otherwise, chunk the content from the print into small bits instead of simply copying and pasting it to a webpage.

  2. Make use of “teasers” or lead sentences that convey the essence of the content then provide a “more” link for people to read on if they’re interested.

  3. Select high-quality images to accompany text on a webpage, and allow “white space” on the page to help the reader’s eye track to the content more easily.

  4. Remember the “F” pattern of eye-tracking (across the top, down the left side and into the middle of the page), and place your most important information in these areas.

  5. Limit your page lengths to three letter-sized pages with the most important information “above the fold” or within the viewable area of the page when it opens in the browser.

  6. Do not write website content that must be scrolled “beyond the crease” or the right side of the viewable area when the page opens in the browser.

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