Your computer screen is a far different medium than printed- paper. As such, we read web pages in a different way than we do a newspaper or other paper document.

Rather than reading every word, people tend to scan web pages. A recent study by the Nielsen Norman Group found that “79 percent of test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.”

Users also read information displayed on screens 25% slower than they read paper-based documents. Consequently, information on web pages should be condensed by 50% of their print counterparts.

While there are many things to keep in mind, for most web writers, there are certain areas in particular that deserve attention. More than the printed page, web pages need to be designed to be scanned quickly, with frequent rest stops for the eye – after all, you want to ensure people read what you’ve taken the trouble to write.

Writing style

  • Be succinct: text should be limited to 50% of the words you would write in print
  • Writing should follow the ‘inverted pyramid format’ with the most important content at the beginning
  • Use simple sentences and limit the use of metaphors
  • Use humor with caution
  • Use correct spelling and grammar
  • Use plain English when creating links, headings, site names, and forms
  • Avoid jargon

Page elements

  • All pages must include the writer/owner’s name (as an active email link at the bottom), accompanied by their company/department name
  • Each item should include the date at the top
  • Links to other pages should be referred to by name (do not use just the URL)
  • Each page must have clear titles/headlines for proper indexing and bookmarking

Format

  • Content should be left justified, except for callouts/pull quotes
  • Paragraphs should be separated by single spaces
  • Avoid long, continuous blocks of text -- and encourage scanning by breaking up text using short paragraphs, sub-headings, bullets, and call-outs
  • Headlines and listings should be limited to 75 characters including spaces
  • Sentences must be ‘tight’ and limited to 20 to 40 words per sentence (though complex topics may demand more)
  • Explain acronyms – always write out the proper name when it first appears with the acronym in brackets
  • Limit scrolling on a home page or section page – content should not run more than one or two screens
  • All links should be underlined and in blue when not activated and highlighted purple after visited
  • Do not underline text - underlining is reserved for links
  • Do not use ALL CAPS or italics for more than a few words as they are difficult to read