Writing tips for the web

“How do readers read on the web?

The answer- they don’t.”Jakob Nielsen, web content guru

Reading words on a computer screen is tedious. According to Jakob Nielsen, users read 28 per cent of the words on a web page.

Our goal as web content providers is to make it easy for people to get the information they need.


1. The four Cs

  • Clear: use simple language. If you confuse the reader, they won’t read your writing. Don’t overcrowd a paragraph with too many ideas. Write one idea per paragraph.
  • Concise: keep it short. If possible, pages should have no more than 500 words, paragraphs no more than 70 words, and sentences no more than 20 words.
  • Complete: Just because you are writing shorter sentences doesn’t mean you can’t have complete ideas. Don’t cut out important information or assume your reader has any sort of background on your topic.
  • Correct: never lie. Cite and link to your sources. If you make a mistake, be upfront about it and correct it quickly.

2. Consider your audience

Consider what your audience knows and relate your writing to their interests. Just think: Student’s don’t care about mortgages. When it comes to text and presentation, look at the content from your audience’s perspective (i.e. should there be lots of colours? Links? Headers? Lists? etc).

3. The inverted pyramid

When writing, put the most important information at the top, followed by information of decreasing importance as the article progresses. If a reader was to read your first paragraph, they should understand the entire article.

4. Use the active voice

Use the active voice and get rid of “helper” words. Rather than “Joe was running” use “Joe ran.” Make your writing tighter, more engaging and more immediate.

5. Text formatting

  • Headings: the headings should be clear and explain the contents of the page.
  • Sub-headings: if the content exceeds 300 words, subheadings help the reader scan the page efficiently and happily
  • Boldface: depending on the content, words or phrases can help the reader find what they want. But don’t overdo it; you may create visual noise.
  • List: numbered, bulleted or other indented lists help the reader make sense of information. Lists can separate large chunks of information and make it easier on the reader’s eyes.

6. Read it out loud

Writing for web is more conversational and informal. Read your text out loud. If you stumble on a word, it is likely your reader will too. A frustrated reader will just stop reading and leave.

7. Proofread

Typos and spelling errors will send people away from your site. Make sure you proofread everything you post to the web. Having a second pair of eyes look over your data can help.


One Reply to “Writing tips for the web”

  1. Good article Kris…a couple of other things, do not use the underline (unless it’s a hyperlink), do not use RED lettering (it seems some people get confused and/or some colorblind people may have a hard time with it)

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