Writing For The Web


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Presentation to staff at the State Library of Victoria on how to write for the web - also useful for anyone interested in web writing. Presented (several times) in October 2007 by Philippa Costigan and Kelly Gardiner.

Published in: Technology, Business

Writing For The Web

  1. 1. Writing for the web Philippa Costigan Kelly Gardiner Web Services Team ‘ Title’on this keyline. Arial Bold 36 pts
  2. 2. What the hell would we know? <ul><li>Philippa </li></ul><ul><li>BA (French & English Literature) </li></ul><ul><li>Editor, Cheap Eats and other consumer/lifestyle magazines </li></ul><ul><li>Partner, Costigan & Murphy, corporate and Government clients – annual reports, brochures, magazines, websites, print advertising and more </li></ul><ul><li>Web Content Coordinator, SLV </li></ul><ul><li>Kelly </li></ul><ul><li>BA (Professional writing and editing) </li></ul><ul><li>MA (Literature) </li></ul><ul><li>Editor of newspapers, magazines, websites </li></ul><ul><li>Manager of ninemsn Search, Hotmail, ninemsn.com.au </li></ul><ul><li>Author (kids’ books) </li></ul><ul><li>Web Services Manager, SLV </li></ul>
  3. 3. How people find content <ul><li>Most users get to web pages from search engines, links on other websites, or links within a website </li></ul><ul><li>Every page should be written as if the user hasn’t seen the rest of the site </li></ul><ul><li>Some of them may not even know where they are. </li></ul>
  4. 4. How people read content <ul><li>Reading from computer screens is slower than reading on paper. </li></ul><ul><li>People rarely read web pages in detail. They are more likely to: </li></ul><ul><li>Skim the page </li></ul><ul><li>Pick out key words and phrases to find relevant information </li></ul><ul><li>Look for links, sub-heads and bullet points </li></ul><ul><li>Click and leave within seconds. </li></ul>
  5. 7. <ul><li>Writing for how people search and writing quality links are the two fundamental skills of web writing. </li></ul><ul><li>Think carefully about search behaviour and make sure your links are always clear and logical. </li></ul><ul><li>- Gerry McGovern </li></ul>79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. - Jakob Nielsen
  6. 8. Understand your audience <ul><li>Who are you talking to? </li></ul><ul><li>What do you know about these people – where do they live? How old are they? What do they like to do in their spare time? </li></ul><ul><li>What do they know about the State Library of Victoria? </li></ul><ul><li>What information do they need? </li></ul>
  7. 9. What’s the point? <ul><li>What are you trying to say and why do you need to say it? </li></ul><ul><li>What are you trying to do? Inform, entertain, educate, motivate, solve a problem? </li></ul><ul><li>What do you want users to think about the State Library of Victoria? </li></ul>
  8. 10. Your website is not a murder mystery... Short, sharp, second person and active; that's web content. Get to the point. Then stop. - Gerry McGovern
  9. 11. Voice and tone <ul><li>Simple steps to help create a friendly and informative voice: </li></ul><ul><li>Never talk down to people </li></ul><ul><li>Always write in plain English (don’t use overly formal language) </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid confusing language (don’t use jargon) </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid long sentences (about 16 words) </li></ul>
  10. 12. Varying your voice <ul><li>Match your voice to your audience: </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate websites: efficient, informative, but approachable </li></ul><ul><li>Vicnet: less formal, community-focused ( us not you ), inclusive </li></ul><ul><li>Blogs: informal, conversational, inviting responses (if work related, they still have to be professional and make some grammatical sense) </li></ul><ul><li>Insideadog: voice reflects user demographic </li></ul>
  11. 13. Tips <ul><li>Be clear and relevant </li></ul><ul><li>Online readers don’t tolerate ambiguous text, and will click forward to find something clearer </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure your writing sticks to the topic and can’t be misunderstood. </li></ul><ul><li>Write with an active voice </li></ul><ul><li>The active voice is more direct and uses fewer words </li></ul><ul><li>Passive: The lecture was enjoyed by the library users </li></ul><ul><li>Active: Library users enjoyed the lecture </li></ul><ul><li>Write with a personal voice </li></ul><ul><li>Impersonal: Web users may subscribe to the State Library’s free email newsletter below . </li></ul><ul><li>Personal: Sign up for your free email newsletter here! </li></ul>
  12. 14. Inverted pyramid <ul><li>Summarise information in the headline and lead paragraph </li></ul><ul><li>Follow with key facts arranged in diminishing order </li></ul><ul><li>Forget essay writing techniques. </li></ul>
  13. 15. How to be concise <ul><li>Online text should have half as many words as printed text – at most. Sentences and paragraphs should be short. </li></ul><ul><li>Never put more than one main idea into a single paragraph. </li></ul><ul><li>Words must be simple and direct. For example, use not utilise ; decide not make a decision . </li></ul>
  14. 16. Page lengths <ul><li>Minimise page lengths </li></ul><ul><li>Ideally, users shouldn’t need to scroll down more than two or three screens of information. </li></ul><ul><li>If you are dealing with more than about 800 words: </li></ul><ul><li>Edit it to make it shorter </li></ul><ul><li>Divide it into self-contained and logical chunks that can live on separate pages. </li></ul>
  15. 17. Chunking <ul><li>Self-contained and context-independent segments of text, headings and subheads that are grouped together for quick easy reading </li></ul><ul><li>Chunks usually fit within a single screen, address a specific concept or theme, are no longer than 100 words, and no more than one or two paragraphs </li></ul><ul><li>Chunks have descriptive headlines or subheads, may contain numbered or bulleted lists, and often have links to other pages or websites </li></ul>
  16. 18. Page structure <ul><li>Use sub-headings </li></ul><ul><li>Sub-headings divide and label logical sections or paragraphs within a single web page. </li></ul><ul><li>Sub-headings help users follow the flow of the text and enable them to quickly assess the bits they want to read. </li></ul><ul><li>Use bullet points </li></ul><ul><li>Bulleted and numbered lists: </li></ul><ul><li>Draws the user’s attention to the most important points </li></ul><ul><li>Allows the user to scan the text quickly and take in key information. </li></ul>
  17. 19. Headlines <ul><li>Strong headlines provide a succinct snapshot of the content on the page and entice users to read further. </li></ul><ul><li>Page headlines should be intuitive, written in plain language, and make sense on their own: no puns, cute or clever headlines or clichés. </li></ul><ul><li>A good headline answers one simple question: “What is the key message on this page?” </li></ul>
  18. 20. <ul><li>Lead with the need. Keep your headings under eight words; four words or less would be even better. </li></ul><ul><li>- Gerry McGovern </li></ul>
  19. 21. Metadata <ul><li>What’s it for? </li></ul><ul><li>Page titles, summaries and keywords make search engines work, and help people find your pages. </li></ul><ul><li>These are coded into the page, and the search engine picks them out when people type those words into a search box. </li></ul><ul><li>Alt text (tool tips in IE) </li></ul><ul><li>Alt text is the short descriptive phrase that appears, like a caption, in a pop-up box when you hover your mouse over an image </li></ul><ul><li>Alt text should appear on every meaningful graphic. If it is an image such as a photo or drawing, the alt text should describe the image </li></ul><ul><li>Critical for accessibility. </li></ul>
  20. 22. Page title Summary
  21. 23. Page title
  22. 25. Links <ul><li>Use links well </li></ul><ul><li>Links to other pages, or content elsewhere on the site, offer users the chance to read background information or related pages. </li></ul><ul><li>Links must be genuinely useful. They allows users to complete tasks. </li></ul><ul><li>Deep links to specific pages reduce frustration. </li></ul><ul><li>Industry standards: </li></ul><ul><li>Links should be self-explanatory </li></ul><ul><li>Write a blurb to tell users what to expect when they click </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t waste words writing click here or follow this link </li></ul><ul><li>Web addresses shouldn’t be used as the text for links: You can book online </li></ul><ul><li>If the link takes users to a different section or website, make that clear: Vote now on insideadog </li></ul>
  23. 26. Context links
  24. 27. Editing <ul><li>Editors ensure: </li></ul><ul><li>Information and ideas are ordered logically and appropriate for the audience and the medium </li></ul><ul><li>Information is presented consistently – structure, voice, tone and style </li></ul><ul><li>Text does not distract the user from their key task, but helps them achieve it </li></ul><ul><li>Editors check: </li></ul><ul><li>Text conforms to web best practice </li></ul><ul><li>Images and captions enhance the content and are relevant </li></ul><ul><li>Ideas are clearly expressed and appeal to the audience </li></ul><ul><li>Fundamentals: punctuation, spelling, links, metadata, consistency with house style </li></ul><ul><li>Editing establishes credibility and trust </li></ul><ul><li>SLV websites are publications with global reach </li></ul><ul><li>Would we publish the Annual Report without editing it? </li></ul>
  25. 28. Peer editing <ul><li>Everyone needs someone to love their text </li></ul><ul><li>Double-check your own work </li></ul><ul><li>Ask others to check your text </li></ul><ul><li>Offer to check others’ work </li></ul><ul><li>Use an industry style guide </li></ul>
  26. 29. References <ul><li>Standard dictionary: </li></ul><ul><li>The Macquarie Dictionary </li></ul><ul><li>Style guides: </li></ul><ul><li>Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers , AGPS Press, Canberra </li></ul><ul><li>SLV Style Guide </li></ul><ul><li>Web gurus: </li></ul><ul><li>Jakob Nielsen, www.useit.com </li></ul><ul><li>Gerry McGovern, www.gerrymcgovern.com </li></ul><ul><li>Us: </li></ul><ul><li>Ask questions – now and any time. </li></ul>