Writing for the web
You have to grab your readers online. Writing effectively for the web is
quite different from writing for the printed page. Writers intending to write
web pages should observe some simple rules if they want to attract and keep
visitors to their pages.
Jakob Nielsen’s study Writing for the Web shows that making web
pages more concise, more scannable and more objective increased measured
usability by 159%. Web users are less motivated than print readers, so you need
to grab their attention quickly and make it easy for them to grasp what you are
trying to say.
How to write for the web
- Readers scan web pages. Help them to do this quickly by
highlighting key points in bold.
- Be as concise as possible. Web users will spend under 4 seconds on
your page if it doesn’t grab their attention.
- Break your work up into short paragraphs, each expressing a single
- Use clear, informative and frequent headings to allow readers to
skim down the page and find what they’re looking for.
- Use bullet points wherever possible, as they give a succinct
presentation of your material.
- Avoid promotional language. A study has shown that it ‘imposes a
cognitive burden’, ie it takes longer to screen out the bullshit.
- Show numbers as numerals.
- Use an inverted pyramid structure, with your conclusion first, then
the most important supporting information, followed by the background and then
your final conclusion.
- Avoid flowery, pompous language and make sure you use as little
jargon, technical or otherwise, as possible, as it will break the reader’s
- Remember that readers will scan your page, so make it easy for them
to pick out the main points very quickly.
- Make sure you establish credibility and authority, so readers trust
you enough to stay on the page.
- Link to other sites which provide more information, as this shows
you are confident and it will also bring more visitors to you.
- Fashions on the web have changed, so don’t split up your article into
different pages, but set it up so you can scroll down easily through
Writing for the web
Jakob Nielsen’s research. http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/
Web Writing for Different Interest Levels Nathan Wallace’s clear
provides useful pages for web users in our
Writers Web Watch
© Chris Holifield 2008