How to Write for the Web - A Guide

Contributors: 
Jim Witkins

Research shows that Web users don't read Web pages. They scan them! If you have a Web page you would like to update, this is an ideal time to create new content for your specific section of the DFM Website. Please contact the Web team regarding your project. We look forward to working with you. With that in mind, here are some tips for writing successful Web copy.

If you care about the success of your Website, you should write in a style useful to your audience.

What to do:

  • Keep it short - Use half the word count (or less) compared to conventional writing.
  • Use bulleted lists.
  • Use meaningful subheads - Skip the marketing speak. Use keywords to help visitors find relevant information.
  • Highlight keywords - Hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others.
  • Use one idea per paragraph - If visitors are not caught by the first few words in a paragraph, they will skip over any additional ideas contained within.
  • Use the Inverted Pyramid style - Start with the conclusion.
  • Use common language - Speak the audience's language. Use words or phrases your audience will understand. Keep it simple.
  • Write to be found - Use words your audience will be searching for in search engines. If they can't find it, it doesn't exist.

What not to do:

  • Write long paragraphs -You'll be the only one reading them.
  • Use marketing speak and jargon - It's confusing, distracting, and won't get you noticed in the search engines.
  • Repurpose content from other sources without editing for the Web - Writing for the Web means writing for the Web, not cutting and pasting to the Web.
  • Bury important information in PDFs or other documents - It's less likely to be found in search engines or site searches. (Provide a detailed summary with a link to the document if nothing else).

More resources:

How Users Read on the Web
Jakob Nielsen, 1997
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html

Inverted Pyramids in Cyberspace
Jakob Nielsen, 1996
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9606.html

Use Old Words When Writing for Findability
Jakob Nielsen, 2006
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-keywords.html

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content
Jakob Nielsen, 2006
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html

Web Writing for Many Interest Levels
Nathan Wallace, 1999
http://www.e-gineer.com/v1/articles/web-writing-for-many-interest-levels.htm

Lower-Literacy Users
Jakob Nielsen, 2005
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html