Some Basic Web Writing Tips

By Amy Campbell

Note: These few web writing "rules of thumb" have helped client content creators better understand how to prepare text for the web and produce more direct, focused, and memorable communications.

When writing for web sites, keep your reader in mind at all times. Remember, the typical web surfer is seeking information and wants to find it quickly. Your job is to help facilitate your web visitor's search while getting your message through.

Brief descriptions followed by more detail

Be concise. Try to write as efficiently as possible — then cut that in half! (Then be prepared to cut that in half again, once the text is put into a web page.) On each page the user should immediately know what that page is about, what it offers her and where it might lead.
It is important to be able to distill information into one simple statement or short paragraph. Also, you should be able to describe what your organization is about in one paragraph. Certainly there is room to expand on any message, but the starting point is always a broad summary statement. Detail unfolds as you go.

Distill message into a unique value proposition

While there may be many benefits to your product or service, you need to choose one unique selling proposition for your main message in order to carve out a position and create a memorable message. A long laundry list of why you are the best is not memorable.

Once you have established your unique position and strong message, you can certainly delve into the many benefits of your product, but do this deeper into the site — either further down the page, or on subsequent pages. Try to build information in a pyramid where the top level information is very concise and acts as the tip of the iceberg of details to follow.

Make it scannable

People don't read much on the web. They scan. Tell your story in:

  • short sentences
  • headlines
  • pull quotes
  • lists
  • tables.

Provide "signposts" to help the reader know what's ahead. Break up long text with subheads that are meaningful.

Hypertext allows great amounts of detail to be presented on the web, but not all at once. The deeper a user drills down into your site, the more elaboration and detail he is willing to view.

Find your tone and style

Web writing tends to be a little more casual and personal (as if you are speaking to one reader at a time). Write in a friendly, easy manner. Inject personality, but don't go overboard. Be professional, yet accessible.

What to avoid

Jargon and acronyms: While they are difficult to avoid in the land of HTTP, play them down as much as possible. Clarity should be your guiding principle.

Metaphors: A carefully chosen metaphor can be useful in describing a new concept, but don't overdo it or use too many. And never mix your metaphors (but you already knew that right?)

Repetition: Don't keep saying the same thing over and over using different words. On the other hand, identify which pages users will first land on (pages that are likely entry points via search engines, links from other sites) and make sure these pages can stand alone. In other words, make sure your top level message appears on key pages to provide proper context — so a visitor quickly knows what the site is about and what it offers.

Amy on Google+





What I Think article index





about infoworks! - amy campbell - services - mini portfolio - what i think - news - home

© 1999-2005. Amy Campbell. All rights reserved.