Writing for the Web

The six main guidelines for writing for the web are:

  • Be succinct: write no more than 50 per cent of the text you would have used in a hardcopy publication – reading from computer screens is about 25 per cent slower than reading from paper.  We also know that users don’t like to scroll: one more reason to keep pages short.
  • Write for scanability: don’t expect users to read long continuous blocks of text – web readers scan text and pick out keywords, sentences, and paragraphs of interest while skipping over those parts of the text they care less about.
  • Use lots of headings, but make them meaningful (reading a heading should tell the user what the page or section is about).
  • Use highlighting and emphasis to make important words catch the user’s eye. Coloured text can also be used for emphasis, and hypertext anchors stand out by virtue of being blue and underlined.
  • Use hypertext to split up long information into multiple pages. Each page can be brief and yet the full hyperspace can contain much more information than would be feasible in a printed article. Detailed background information can be relegated to secondary pages; similarly, information of interest to a minority of readers can be made available through a link.
  • Use the “inverse pyramid” principle.  Each page should start with a short summary so that readers immediately understand the basic information on the page even if they don’t read all of it.

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