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Web writing techniques

Scannable content

When reading on onscreen people want minimum words, but maximum content and they want it fast. Research has also shown that many people scan pages rather than reading them word-for-word, therefore make your writing easy to scan and understand by:

  • using plain English, short sentences and everyday words
  • writing 50% less text than for conventional publications, and then editing and streamlining this further
  • keeping language neutral (e.g. by avoiding overblown advertising language or 'bureaucratese')
  • using bulleted or numbered lists to display key points (maximum of 8-9 items per list)
  • creating emphasis (e.g. by using bold text or highlighting) sparingly to pick out keywords and phrases.
  • avoid italics as this is difficult to read onscreen.
  • putting the most important information first (eg. summary and/or conclusion)
  • using the active rather than the passive voice, where appropriate, for direct, more lively text (e.g., they held a protest march rather than a protest march was held)
  • use diagrams and images that aid comprehension, add value to, and support the content (Note: ensure that text equivalents are also available—see W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0)
  • maintaining a consistent, logical format.

Appropriate labelling

Meaningful labels that clearly describe the content of a page or section, and improve search results on your information should be used on:

  • navigation terms
  • page titles
  • headings and subheadings

Don't start labels with articles 'a', 'an', 'the', but move keywords to the front, these will be used by search engines when ranking search results.

Keep labels as short as possible (about two to six words)

Reference

World Wide Web Consortium, Web content accessibility guidelines, 1.0, viewed 13 July 2005, http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10

Last reviewed
31 March 2011
Last updated
17 May 2011