Writing for Web

In Short

  • Don't use "Click Here"
  • Check your spelling & grammar
  • Write concisely
  • Use the inverted pyramid
  • Remember your audience
  • Use lists and images
  • Use headings
  • Avoid common errors

The Number #1 & #2 Tips for Writing for Web

Do not use "Click Here" for links

Using the phrases "click here" or "here" or "this link" indicate that your site hasn't been updated since 1995. It's also unhelpful for those with low vision (who may not be using a normal browser) as well as search engines (which don't understand context). Using full phrases for links does more than help accessibly and search engine optimization. These phrases will act like a beacon for the users. It also entices them to actually click on the link, since they know where it will go.

Check your Spelling & Grammar

Go ahead and write your content in Word (or another word processor) and then copy and paste it into Javelin. Just remember to use the Remove Formatting button. If you are an atrocious speller or just can't find that indirect verb, have someone (or several someones) look over your content before it goes live.

In General

Write for web like you'd write for a personal ad: Short, sweet, and to the point. This doesn't mean every page should only have a few words, but keep your paragraphs and sentences short, keeping the most important information at the top of the page and the beginning of every paragraph.

  • Use the Inverted Pyramid method of writing. Start wtih the most important information and put details towards the bottom of the page.Write for people who are scanning. 
  • Bulleted lists are very good for this purpose.
  • They force short lines and make it very easy to scan.
  • Use images and headings to break up long areas of text.

Write for a lower reading-level. Newspapers (used to) write to an eighth-grade reading-level. They also (used to) follow something called the inverted pyramid of writing: put the most important information at the top, with more and more details following.

The purpose of the lower reading level isn't that web users are incapable of grasping more, it's because it is difficult to read on a screen. Despite what e-readers claim, reading on a screen lowers both reading speeds and comprehension. Smaller words and shorter sentences and paragraphs ensure that readers spend less time reading and more time understanding what is written.

Using Headings

Use headings to organize your text into more readable chunks. Headings also benefit search engine optimization, if used correctly. There are a total of six available levels, but most pages only need three.

Heading 1 is your page title. There should only be one Heading 1 on a page.

Heading 2 describes more about Heading 1.

Heading 3 describes more about Heading 2.

These headings are hierarchical and should be used in order.

  • About Bob (page title | h1)
    • Bob's Education (h2)
    • Bob's Family (h2)
      • Bob's Wife (h3)
      • Bob's Kids (h3)

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Think about who you are writing to when creating content. If your site is mainly for medical professionals who are well aware of all the jargon and used to a higher level of writing, then you don't have to write to them as if they are twelve. However, keep in mind that reading on a screen is more difficult, so while you don't have to talk down to your audience, keeping the sentences shorter and words simpler will still help in comprehension.

Tips for Writing Blogs

Blog posts are inherently different from static website content. Blogs are usually written in the author's voice, meaning they read as the writer speaks. They also appeal to a different audience than the casual user. Those who read and subscribe to blogs are looking for a more personal relationship between them and your site. These users want to read what is written, versus scanning to find specific information.

  • Write more casually, like a letter or diary/journal entry.
  • Have less concern for reading level and jargon, but don't alienate your readers with unnecessarily complicated words.
  • If necessary, briefly define a term (short and in parentheses) immediately after writing it.

Miscellaneous Guidelines

Don't use all caps for body text

Using all caps reads as if you are yelling at the user. It is also more difficult to read than mixed case, and can frustrate users enough to make them leave.

Good

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Bad

THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG.

Don't capitalize each word

This is also more difficult to read, as it gives no easy indication as to where sentences begin or end.

Good

The early bird gets the worm. The late worm gets to live.

Bad

The Early Bird Gets The Worm. The Late Worm Gets To Live.

Avoid using ampersands (&) for anything other than pairs:

Good

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Donnie & Marie Osmond

Bad

  • Steak & Bananas
  • Toothpaste & Orange Juice
  • John Lennon & Deadmau5

The Exception
It's perfectly fine to use an ampersand in your page and/or navigation titles in place of the word "and". Just keep it consistent between page titles or navigation titles or both, at least within the same section.

Avoid blue and purple text and underlined text

While we suggest never changing your text color (it often clashes with or disrupts the overall design), the option is still available. However, never change your text color to blue or purple or make it underlined. These are visual cues that the text is a link.

Acceptable

My mother has brown eyes. My father has green eyes.

Bad

My mother has brown eyes. My father has green eyes. I have blue eyes. I like purple.

Quotes do not indicate emphasis

Using quotes online indicates sarcasm. Use bolded or italicized text to indicate emphasis.

Good

"I loved The Smurfs movie," she said to me.

Bad

I "loved" The Smurfs movie, she said to me.