Writing Content for the Web
- Making Content ‘Scan-able’
- Headings and Subheadings
- Simple Language
- Grammar and Spelling
- Plain English
- Fonts, Sizes, etc
- Further Reading
2. Making Content ‘Scan-able’
There are various things that can help with this:
- Don’t use large blocks of dense text.
- Lists can be very useful as long as they aren’t too long or complex.
- Try to put important things near the front of the sentence and at the beginning of the paragraph.
3. Headings and Subheadings
- Summarise the content of that section
- Be concise
- Try not to be ‘clever’ or too witty
4. Simple Language
- Remove 50% of your words
- Use simpler words where possible
- Don’t use complex clauses in sentences.
- Use examples where necessary
If people read your writing for longer than their interest level, they will become bored and frustrated. They will then build up negative feelings towards the subject, author or website.
The different levels of interest are:
- Introductory Paragraph
- Major Points
- Minor Points
- Detailed interest
- Further Reading
You should start with a good title. This is what people will commonly use to link to you and it is the first thing people see when they look at your page. It allows people who have arrived in error to quickly realise it and to leave.
A clear introduction that summarises what your article is about. That will enable people who aren’t interested in it to realise this, and go somewhere else. It also makes it easier for people to link to your article from another site using a short explanatory paragraph.
The major points should be your headings and sub-headings. These will give people a deeper idea of your content, and will allow people to easily find the section they need. Tables of contents can be automatically produced from the headings on a page.
Major points should be understandable in their own right, and not be jokey or a teaser to what’s to come.
These should be concise sentences and bullet points. They should cover the details of the headings.
If people have read this far, then they have quite an interest in what you have to say and you can go into points with much more depth.
If people have read your detailed points and are still interested then you should provide them with some links to further reading. This is also a good point to cite the sources of any external information you have used.
Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the objective of your page content:
- If a user is just looking for a link to information, and you place the links at the very end of your article, they will just be irritated at all the scrolling and scanning they have had to do.
- If it is a page giving advice on which course is right one for them, then as soon as the user has the information they need, they will want to find out more about the course. Links in the page content would then save them time.
- If the article is one where the user won’t be looking for more information unless they are very interested in the topic, then links are best at the end of the page.
8. Grammar and Spelling
You should put your work into Word to check the grammar and spelling, but remember that Word isn’t always right!
9. Plain English
In particular are:
Keep your sentences short
Clear writing for print should have an average sentence length of around 15-20 words. Clear writing for online should have 25% less, or around 10-15 words per sentence.
Prefer active verbs
Try to use active verbs rather than passive verbs. For example:
We shall consider this shortly. (active)
This shall be considered by us shortly. (passive)
Passive verbs cause several problems. They:
- can be confusing;
- often make writing more long-winded; and
- make writing less lively.
10. Fonts, Sizes, etc
11. Further Reading
Jakob Nielson’s How Users Read on the Web