Writing for the Web

Before content is created, and when maintaining it, it is important to understand that writing for a web audience and writing for an offline audience is not the same.

As such, it is essential to identify the aim of the content and your intended audience including how that intended audience uses the web and processes information. In doing so, the content can be designed and developed in a way that will enable access to information and maximise the user’s experience of your website.

The following are some web issues to keep in mind.

Understanding user interaction with online content

  • Users have a short attention span and therefore rarely read web pages word-for-word. Research has shown they scan the page and pick out key words and sentences.
  • In the early years of the web, users often didn’t scroll web pages at all. They expected salient information to be within a page’s initial viewable area i.e. above the 'page fold'. Over time, however, users have become accustomed to scrolling on the Web. They do look below the page fold but do not spend nearly as much time as above the page fold.
  • Users may have problems processing the information with learning and cognitive disabilities such as Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, English as second language etc.
  • Users may be using assistive technologies to read the content or may only be using a keyboard to navigate the content (not a mouse).

Content Structure

  • Provide the most important and critical information at the top of the page, in plain sight, knowing that users will spend more time above the page fold.
  • Use the Inverted Pyramid technique by layering information. Important and essential information is placed first with detailed, lengthy and specialised content progressively revealed as the user delves further down the page and/or site. This allows the reader to decide, from the first paragraph, to read on for more details.
  • Write in short digestible chunks of text and group information visually.
  • Long pages of content should be read as a whole and ideally be provided as a document to download and read. One page documents can be converted to a webpage.
  • If pages are long and scrolling, provide structure with semantic headings, sub-headings, tables, images and lists to guide the reader’s eye through the content.
  • Take advantage of the web as an active medium and link to internal and external resources as appropriate.
  • Use vocabulary that your intended audience will understand.

Make content easy to scan

  • Highlight keywords to aid in scanning the content (hyperlinks provide one form of highlighting, bold and italics are others while underline should be reserved for hyperlinks)
  • Provide meaningful and succinct headings that help users to find information quickly.
  • Use bullet and numbered lists to group items together to improve comprehension.

Accessibility considerations

  • Use hyperlinks effectively; they should be descriptive and distinctive on their own. Generic link text like 'click here' and 'more' links are discouraged. Instead, use an accurate description of the linked content, such as the document title, and incorporate it in the sentence. The URL can be included after the descriptive text if the document is offered both for printing and reading electronically.
  • Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background colours to aid people with low vision problems.
  • Use other visual cues, in addition to colour, to convey important information.
  • Provide alternative text for images if they convey information.
  • Provide captions, transcripts or text equivalents to time based media content such as video and audio.
  • Provide PDF versions, for long lengthy documents, to allow users to download, print or read offline. These documents should be accessible as well.

Further reading

Date posted:
28 July 2014
Authored by :
Le Tong