Writing for the Web

Writing web content is a different skill compared with the usual academic writing. I constantly get sent long paragraphs of texts to publicise online so off I went on a writing for the web course and thought it might be useful to share the advice. Unfortunately I don’t have references for most of the advice so please do share any you know of.

Writing needs to be concise for the web. The top half of a website (above the fold in old communication terms) should not have more than 150words. Headings should be maximum 60 characters and ideally only 40 characters. Break up long sentences, after approximately 12 words the user will have to take a ‘regression pause’ to catch up on the rest of the sentence. Paragraphs should be kept to 2-3 lines.

There are physiological reasons for people to read less on screen, such as flicker from the screen. This reduces the ability of the user to concentrate, whether noticeable or not. Apparently people are estimated to read 25% slower on screen and scan text for key information.

When writing define both the audience and the objectives before producing content.  The structure of your writing should also be different online, more of an inverted pyramid with the key information or conclusion first. In addition to the 5 W’s of writing (who what when where why) there is an additional W was advised – who cares? Keeping this in mind when writing can help you tailor your writing to your audience.

The highest priority area for the web is top left hand corners. Users often read in a Z or F shape starting from there. It is vital to engage them in this area to reduce bounce rates and entice them to read more. Differentiation between text and importance can also aid peoples navigation. For more information in terms of site usability it is worth having a nose around nngroup.com

The online environment is dynamic and very different from the usual academic contexts. It is worth bearing this in mind as one of my pet hate is old content, it just looks like you don’t care. While the course was focused on developing content for websites and not blogging some of the advice is applicable.

It can be hard to maintain the momentum of blogging but it is definitely important. I also think having a bit of personality is important online as people connect to people and not the actual research (thanks to George Julian for that insight). Managing that identity consistently is also difficult but hopefully these writing tips might help with both blog and web content.


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