Writing for the Web


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Hints and tips for good web writing.

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Writing for the Web

  1. 1. Writing for the Web J. Todd Bennett Managing Partner
  2. 2. Writing for the Web is… Knowing your audiences Creating the content they are looking for Writing it in the right style Formatting it for effective scanning
  3. 3. Why good web writing matters People read differently on the web Users rarely read entire pages word for word Reading on the screen is physically more difficult than on paper
  4. 4. Why good web writing matters Web readers typically:  Scan pages  Pick out key words and phrases  Read in quick, short bursts  Are action oriented  Click and forage in search of bits of information that lead them towards a goal
  5. 5. The game has changed A lot has changed. It’s time to think differently about our vs. websites. channel organization
  6. 6. Know your audiences  Who are you trying to serve?  What is important to them? Success = how well you provide them with what they want, the way they want it
  7. 7. Common Content Mistakes  Because of ease and low cost, people tend to put everything they can on the web.  We have become web pack-rats  Success based on big numbers Long Neck  Many sites resemble a house with lots of additions and no real plan Long Tail Zipf Distribution
  8. 8. What NOT to do Welcome people to your website and explain what a website is. I would like to personally welcome blah blah, blah Blah you to our web page. We blah blah blah blah. have put together a great collection of information and Blah blah blah, blah links to help you learn more about us. I invite you blah. blah. Blah blah to look around and click the links to the left.
  9. 9. What NOT to do Put your mission statement on your home page •Don’t tell people what you do and how you plan to do it, show them. •Make your most important services and content available immediately. •People came to your site to do something or learn something– make it easy for them.
  10. 10. What NOT to do Organize your website and write content to reflect your organization
  11. 11. What NOT to do Put every piece of printed content on your website Large volumes of bad content don’t make a good site. Simple rule of thumb: If your visitors don’t need it, and you can’t maintain it, DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR SITE!
  12. 12. What NOT to do Use ―marketese‖ or promotional writing on the web Boastful, exaggera ted language reduces the likelihood that your content will be read or believed.
  13. 13. What NOT to do Post a PDF version of a document unless necessary Appropriate when the format and integrity of the original printed document must be maintained, such as a printable form
  14. 14. Writing Style Traditional academic writing: Pyramid style Lays the foundation with lots of supporting research Builds to a logical conclusion Takes a lot of reading to get to the point
  15. 15. Inverted Pyramid Style Puts the most important information FIRST with supporting detail to follow When writing for the web: Catch your readers’ attention in the first few words Start with the conclusion, follow with the details Remember: who, what, where, when, why and how Only one idea per paragraph Use half the word count of traditional writing
  16. 16. Write to be found in a search Use words that your target audiences use when searching Identify words your users search by: •Ask them •Check your web analytics •Check your internal search logs •Use a service https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal
  17. 17. Be clear, concise & direct  Use the active voice  the subject does the action (e.g. ―The president released a statement.‖)  Avoid the passive voice  the subject receives the action (e.g. ―A statement was released by the president.‖)  Cut wordy phrases
  18. 18. Be clear, concise & direct  Wordy, passive phrase: In the event that it snows, the parking hotline should be called prior to coming to campus.  Concise, active phrase: If it snows, call the parking hotline before coming to campus.
  19. 19. Concise word choices Instead of… Use… Due to the fact that Because, since, why For the reason that Despite the fact that Although In the event that If Under circumstances in which In reference to About With regard to Concerning the matter of It is necessary that Must, should It is important that Is able to Can Has the opportunity to Prior to Before, after In anticipation of Subsequent to
  20. 20. Use simple words  People read simpler words faster  You don’t need to impress web visitors with your vocabulary Tip: When writing, think about how you might say the same thing to someone on the telephone.
  21. 21. Use simple words Instead of . . . Use . . . obtain Get prior to Before purchase Buy request ask for subsequent Next terminate End utilize Use cognizant Know facilitate Help
  22. 22. Provide Context The Given-New Principle Start with something the reader already knows then provide the new information Example: “If your financial aid award includes a PLUS loan, send the following documentation to the Student Accounts office:‖
  23. 23. Use Parallel Construction To improve readability, present similar content in parallel constructions— consistent patterns in the way information is written.  People anticipate patterns when reading and grasp information more quickly when patterns exist.  Switching patterns requires more mental energy.
  24. 24. Use Parallel Construction Parallel View your purchase history  If you already have an account, sign in to view your records  If you don’t have an account, complete the new account request form Non-parallel Customers can view their purchasing history with us online. To do so, simply sign in to our online account system. Customers who have never used the system must complete a new account request in order to gain access to the system.
  25. 25. Sentence fragments are o.k.  Complete sentences are not always necessary  Avoid telegraphic writing  Leaving out words like ―the‖ or ―a‖  May be appropriate for navigation, but not in the page body
  26. 26. Sentence fragments are o.k. Examples: Fragment: Free gift with purchase! Telegraphic writing: Customer receives free item with purchase of book.
  27. 27. Use longer, more descriptive links  Your users should know what to expect when clicking a link.  When providing links in your content (contextual links), choose 7-11 words that are informative.  You may also choose to provide brief descriptions with a shorter link to inform your audiences.
  28. 28. Use longer, more descriptive links Vague link: Directory Descriptive link: Find a person in the employee directory Or Search employee directory Contact information for employees, including email and telephone numbers
  29. 29. Introduction text: good or bad?  Most readers skip the introductory text on web pages. Intro text is usually meaningless (―Welcome to our website‖)  Intro text is usually too long   It can be useful and improve the readability of a page if it is: A summary of what is to be found on the page (Focused on:  What? Why?) Kept to 1-2 sentences 
  30. 30. Headlines and Headings  The headline should identify the content of the page immediately.  Headlines and sub-headings within the page break up the content, make it easy to scan.  Should provide visual cues  Should be useful
  31. 31. Headlines and Headings Ways to write headings  Questions: user guides, policies, procedures Phrased as our readers would ask them   Phrases & sentences: good for subheadings in a long page of content  Nouns as headings: not as action oriented, so should be used only when it clearly identifies a user need
  32. 32. Headlines & Headings Question: How do I apply for membership? Verb phrase: Applying for membership Imperative: Apply for membership Sentence: There are three steps to the membership application. Noun: Application for membership
  33. 33. Highlight keywords in your text  Bold, italics, color, font, and links are all forms of highlighting Should be used sparingly– once or twice per paragraph   Cautions:  Be aware of colors in your stylesheets. Don’t confuse links and headlines with your highlights.  Avoid underlines as highlights  No wild colors, no flashing text– the point is to aid scanning, not grab attention.
  34. 34. Use bulleted or numbered lists Lists create chunks of content that facilitates scanning. They can separate ideas and allow for counting. Use lists for:  Options  Steps  Items
  35. 35. Use bulleted or numbered lists For steps in a process, use numbered lists and action oriented imperatives (―open this‖ or ―click on‖ or ―do this‖) Example:  Register for a username  Log-in to the portal  Download the application
  36. 36. Use numerals  When writing numbers, use numerals instead of words  This is especially helpful when the numbers represent facts  Numbers tend to jump out when scanning text Example: 5 instead of Five
  37. 37. Word Count: Rules of Thumb To limit your word count when writing for the web, use the following general rules:  Headings: 8-10 words or less  Sentences: 15-20 words  Paragraphs: 40-70 words  Pages: 500 words or less
  38. 38. Still need help? info@decimal 152.com www.decimal 152.com 404.551.3039