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Writing for the web

Help for writers

Writing for the web

You have to grab your readers online. Writing effectively for the web is quite different from writing for the printed page. Writers intending to write web pages should observe some simple rules if they want to attract and keep visitors to their pages.

Jakob Nielsen’s study Writing for the Web shows that making web pages more concise, more scannable and more objective increased measured usability by 159%. Web users are less motivated than print readers, so you need to grab their attention quickly and make it easy for them to grasp what you are trying to say.

How to write for the web

  1. Readers scan web pages. Help them to do this quickly by highlighting key points in bold.
  2. Be as concise as possible. Web users will spend under 4 seconds on your page if it doesn’t grab their attention.
  3. Break your work up into short paragraphs, each expressing a single idea.
  4. Use clear, informative and frequent headings to allow readers to skim down the page and find what they’re looking for.
  5. Use bullet points wherever possible, as they give a succinct presentation of your material.
  6. Avoid promotional language. A study has shown that it ‘imposes a cognitive burden’, ie it takes longer to screen out the bullshit.
  7. Show numbers as numerals.
  8. Use an inverted pyramid structure, with your conclusion first, then the most important supporting information, followed by the background and then your final conclusion.
  9. Avoid flowery, pompous language and make sure you use as little jargon, technical or otherwise, as possible, as it will break the reader’s flow.
  10. Remember that readers will scan your page, so make it easy for them to pick out the main points very quickly.
  11. Make sure you establish credibility and authority, so readers trust you enough to stay on the page.
  12. Link to other sites which provide more information, as this shows you are confident and it will also bring more visitors to you.
  13. Fashions on the web have changed, so don’t split up your article into different pages, but set it up so you can scroll down easily through well-signposted text.

Writing for the web Jakob Nielsen’s research.

Web Writing for Different Interest Levels  Nathan Wallace’s clear guide

How to provides useful pages for web users in our Writers Web Watch

© Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2008