Effectively writing for the web involves having useful content, written in an easy to understand style and formatted to be quickly scanned by readers. Studies have shown that users typically scan text on websites, rather than reading word-for-word. Users read in quick, short bursts and tend to be action-oriented, in search of a goal. It takes users longer to read the same passage on a screen than it does on paper.
It’s important to catch the attention of your reader in the first few words. Use an inverted pyramid style for your web writing. Present the most important information first, followed by supporting detail. This style is a courtesy to your readers, allowing them to determine early on whether the content will meet their needs, or if they should keep searching.
A few simple tips:
Usability of web content increased by 124% when content creators concentrated on:
- Keeping text concise
- Word count should be 50% less than print
- Keep sentences (1-20 words) and paragraphs (1-5 sentences) short
- User simpler language and shorter words
- Include a single idea per paragraph
- Using neutral/objective language
- Promotional, or marketing language turns off users
- Avoid jargon
- Use sensible (not clever) headings and sub-headings
- Using an easily scannable layout
- Bulleted lists
- Start with the conclusion
- Highlight key words
- Centered text is harder to read than left aligned text
- Most important info should be at the top of the page
More information on writing content for the web can be found in Chapter 15 of the US Government Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines.