Web Writing Strategies
We’ve discussed how to structure your site and possible content for each page – but this article will discuss the real meat of the subject – how to actually write for the web.
The whole goal of writing for the web is to get people to read your stuff. If it’s not readable – then it’s nothing better than “blah, blah, blah”.
Keep in mind that most people will need a lot of help to get through a web site and/or a web page. Just as we previously discussed web site navigation strategies, we must discuss strategies to help people navigate each individual page. You must make the task of reading your pages as simple as possible.
The name of the game is “scannability” (that word aint in the dictionary!) Can your reader scan the page, get the information they need, and move quickly to the next page?
Now for the nitty gritty strategies:
- Write in “chunks”. Don’t overwhelm with a lot of information in one paragraph. Keep your paragraphs at 2-3 sentences each.
- Use headings. By using headings – you will make your page easy to scan.
- Use lists. Lists will create scannability, as well.
- Bold. Bolding will allow you to highlight important information. Bolding is also effective in search engine promotion (bolding keywords). Don’t overbold, things can quickly become unreadable if everything is bold.
- Write at an “eight grade reading level”. The point here is that you want to make it easy to read. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be interesting – keep your visitors excited about your content – but people don’t have time to read involved text. (If you need to include involved explanations – save it for pages further on down the line – your first priority is getting them interested.)
- Watch the jargon. If you are using words that are specific to a certain community of people – be careful. For instance, if you are talking about ISP’s, HTML, gifs, bandwidth, and jpegs; you are really talking to a community of internet gurus. If you have the slightest feeling that your audience will not understand your specific terminology – then give definitions.
- Write it the way you say it. Don’t write it as if you were writing an essay on the pros and cons of euthanasia for your 10th grade English Teacher. Do write conversationally. You don’t even have to write in complete sentences – as long as you are getting the point across. Sometimes, text is easier to read without complete sentences.
- Use spacing, punctuation, and symbols to their fullest advantage (- . , ! ” % $ & ~ : ). The dash (-) or the ellipse (…) can be very powerful – leading people to the next bit of text. Get a little creative and remember – “White Space” is your friend.
- Use colorful, positive language: words that evoke emotion, words that are “strong”, words that conjure images in people’s minds. Here is a nice little list of strong, positive words for a “professional site” – dedicated, beneficial, reputation, ground-breaking, advancement, establish, profitable, flexible, achieve, innovative, succeed, envision, expand, connection, strategy, essential, perspective, diverse, current, cutting edge, dramatic…
- Tell stories. Nothing gets the point across like a little story. Use examples, metaphors, analogies. Also, explaining something in different ways may also help – repeating the main concepts. When we are trying to learn something new – we need to have things repeated to us in different ways. Each time it’s explained – we learn a little bit more.
- Watch out for too many font sizes. Just as deadly, using too many different font faces. Either can make the page hard to read. A good rule of thumb in traditional print design is two font styles and 2 font sizes, one for headlines and one for the body copy. While the web is a different medium and your font choices are much more limited the same can apply. Often you can say more with less. Try bolding or enlarging the headings and bolding various key words but keep the body copy all the same size. You’ll be amazed at how neat and professional it can look.
- After you finish writing a page close your eyes. Now open your eyes and just glance at the page. First, look at the overall appearance – not the actual text. Does the page look neat and clean or messy and unreadable? Do certain words or phrases stand out? Are those the concepts that you want to stand out? Second, go into the text – scan the headlines – do they make sense, if someone only read the headlines would your page be making the point you wanted it to make?
Also read: When it’s Okay to Break Grammar & Design Rules.