Writing Well for the Web

Reading the screen differs from reading the printed sources. It may hurt the pride of online writers, but users seldom take pains to read their works attentively. As a rule, the users just scan text looking for the key words or phrases. The research of the five most popular writing styles at Sun Microsystems laboratory showed that the usability of an average web site increases by 53% if the text is brief and concise; by 27% – if the text is easy to scan, by 47% if the text is written in “informative” style and is not another piece of blunt advertising. The results prompt the web writers what text they should produce to be read. Another issue is how to produce it. This article gives several helpful recommendations in this direction.

First, remember five simple rules: present information in logical blocks; use clear and commonly-used words; write little, but to the point; give special attention to the first phrases of the paragraphs; allocate a separate paragraph to every new idea. Second, be cautious with humor. It is a tricky thing. People have a different sense of humor and that is why in every particular case a writer should have a clear idea what people make up the site’s audience. Knowing your target audience will help you to include relevant jokes and tell the story in the appropriate style. Surely it is not easy, as people of different ages, nationalities, religion etc visit your site. Sometimes it is risky to include puns in the text as the foreign users may not be able to understand them at all. Third, the text should be easy to scan. To save the search time, at first users just scan the text, but don’t read it as a whole. Scanning can be facilitated with headings, lists, hyperlinks in the text, graphics, italicized words, and main sentences, as well as list of contents. Users need to find and get the information quickly.

They have no time for verbose digressions. That is why the shorter text the better. You should come to the point from the first sentences of your text. According to the research many users like when contents or some kind of annotation precede the text. It is more convenient for them first to get acquainted with the contents and then to choose the necessary items and read them more thoroughly. Present news in the style of “inverted pyramid”. At first you present the news with conclusions, and then come the details. Such approach allows to get the necessary information immediately and captures the readers’ attention. Text and graphics make up a strong and efficient combination but only if they influence the reader’s perception in synchrony. Graphics that adds nothing to the text just diverts the reader’s attention.