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Best Practices for Writing on the Web

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 by | Filed Under: Web Design
 
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Are you an aspiring web designer? Plan on penning your own blog sometime in the future? Let these handy web writing tips be your guide!

Enable People to Scan Through Writing

People scan through web pages hunting for specific information or anything that intrigues them. This reading style is very different to the reading style of a person enjoying a novel. However, there is one similarity and that is both types of communication media require you to write to your audience. And, that’s where the similarities end.

Audience Analysis

An output of the Requirements Gathering phase should be a document that mentions the profile of the audience. Use this analysis to determine the writing style. If the website caters to multiple audience, then each section would have its own audience analysis and hence a unique writing style. The audience analysis will also help you determine the acceptable jargon and abbreviations. If you do intend to use “unknown” abbreviations, then here is how it is done.

Keep It Short and Simple (KISS)

If you can communicate an idea in fewer words then do so! Why make your audience read more. Web writing always needs to be clear and concise. Avoid using complex sentence structures, long words, and slang. Your writing should always be in active voice. The KISS principle can be expanded further beyond sentence structures to paragraphs.

One Idea, One Paragraph

Communicating multiple ideas in a paragraph makes it harder for the reader to comprehend. The millisecond break between paragraphs enables readers to digest the ideas being communicated. In addition, if the paragraph is too long, the reader might just skip it altogether and return to scanning mode. Therefore, limit the length of paragraphs to six sentences (Spyridakis, 2000) and you’ll dramatically increase readability and improve retention.

This theory is also applicable to lists…

Seven Items or Less, One List

Lists enable fast reading and improved retention. However, if they are too long they might not serve the purpose. The longer the list; the lower the retention. Limit the list size to a maximum of seven items (Miller, 1958). You can reduce the list by chunking the items into categories. This is also true for writing instructions. This enables higher retention and faster reading.

Now, I know you must be wondering, “But, web users scan!”

Scanning First, Read Second


The way you write should enable people to scan and get intrigued to read. To increase the probability of getting a person to read the content, you should write the content in a manner that enables scanning.

All the practices described in this article enable a reader to scan and find relevance in the content faster. Other techniques include using descriptive paragraph headings and highlighting keywords by using emboldened text. Scan back and you’ll see each paragraph starts with a descriptive heading and each paragraph also has bolded text. These are some practices that enable the rolling stone to pause just a little longer.


~Rupen Sharma

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