People read differently on the web. To get your message across, you need to write differently too.
How is Web Writing Different?
Most people don’t read word-for-word on the web. They skim, they scan, they quickly search the page for the specific information they’re seeking.
There are two key reasons why we read this way online:
1. It’s physically more difficult.
- Reading a screen is slower than reading a printed page.
- It’s more fatiguing to the eyes.
2. Online readers are on a mission.
- They’re probably busy and distracted (and most likely reading on a mobile device).
- They’re on a quest for specific information, and they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t find it quickly.
Effective Web Writing
Good web writing is…
- Scannable. Break up long paragraphs into shorter ones, and use headings and bullet lists to help make your content easier to absorb at a glance.
- Inverted. Put results, conclusions, or must-know information in your first paragraph, or start with a preview of what you’re going to say.
- Concise. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs (one idea per paragraph). If it can be in a list, make it a list.
- Focused. Don’t overload a single web page with multiple topics. If you have information on many different subjects, use a top-level page that quickly directs the reader to sub-pages for each topic. (Tabbed content or accordions can also be used in place of child pages.)
- Real. Avoid jargon, marketing-speak, and “impressive” academic language. Keep your messages direct and your language objective and honest.
- Error-free. It’s harder to catch errors on a screen. Ask someone else to proofread your copy, or try reading it out loud.
Web writing resources
- This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change the Way You Write
Reducing the complexity of your writing will allow more readers to understand and retain your ideas.
- Reading on the Web
Learn about people’s online reading habits, courtesy of web usability guru Jakob Nielsen.
- Lazy Eyes: How We Read Online
A humorous, but spot-on summary of the best research about online readers
- Be Concise
Super helpful tips and examples from the US Government(!) on how to make your writing leaner and easier to read.
- Web Writing for Many Interest Levels
How to write for every audience, from the completely uninterested to the most dedicated reader.
- Why Writing Like a College Student Will Kill You Online
The academic writing style has its place in the ivy-coated corners of the world. But it doesn’t belong on the web.
- Why Your Links Should Never Say “Click Here”
The words you use in your links matter to your readers. Take the time to do the right thing.