Web writing helps users visually scan a page's content to quickly find what they need.
On the web, users on average read 28% of the words on a page.
Most want quick answers to questions they have. Rather than fighting that tendency, help them.
Clarify the Page's Structure
- Chunk text into short paragraphs with frequent headings.
- Write headings as summaries, so a scan of the page’s headings gives a summary of the whole page.
- Give headings descriptive, not cute, titles.
- Keep headings in correct outline order.
- Use bulleted lists to cite similar items. Don't use them for a set of unrelated points; it is not an excuse for failing to organize.
- Use numbered lists to detail sequential steps in a process or to indicate hierarchy of the items.
Reduce Mental Effort
- Cut words to the essence. Then cut again. Excess wording is the key obstacle to a quick info seek and is most often the byproduct of writers on a deadline.
- Maintain active voice, unless the frontloading of keywords would provide more value in a spot. Active voice is more dynamic, usually shorter, and takes less thought to process than the less direct passive voice.
- Employ parallelism with heading and list item formats as much as possible. Notice how most of the headings on this page start with a verb? Less effort for the reader to process.
- Avoid using FAQs. Duplicate information, lack of discernible content order, and repetitive grammatical structure increase confusion and cognitive load for users.
- Use descriptive link text. Users should never have to read surrounding text to know where it will lead. Blind users often don’t have the option.
- Write numbers as numerals (19) rather than spelling them out (nineteen).
Highlight Key Points
- Frontload keywords. Eyetracking research shows that people pay most attention to the first 2 words of a line.
- Boldface keywords or key phrases. Italics also can be used, although it is generally less noticeable and sometimes less readable. Never underline, as it can be confused for a link.
- Don't overemphasize. If you find yourself highlighting whole sentences, bolding links, or emphasizing 30 items, you’re overloading users. Choose your priorities and simplify.
See a web writing sample.