Writing for the web
When it comes to the web, how you write not only affects readability for individual visitors, but also how easy it is for search engines to find your pages. On this page you will find some tips for making your web pages more reader-friendly.
Creating a reader-friendly web page
Web pages are seldom read in their entirety. Visitors prefer to quickly scan a page looking for information. This is why it is important to clearly show what a page is about. There are several ways of doing this:
- Start with the most important information, and save the least important for last.
- Write a preamble. It should be short and concise and contain only the most important information, preferably on the first line.
- Use short paragraphs and use subheadings generously. Avoid long paragraphs and instead divide them into more manageable chunks.
- Use bullet lists, indents or images to break up the page.
- Write short sentences. Long sentences weigh down the page, and readers will quickly loose track and leave the page.
Writing web copy that works
- Analyse your target audience, your purpose and the context. Who are you writing for? What is the purpose of the text and what is your message?
- Structure the content. Dividing it into categories helps the visitor grasp what the page is about.
- Keep your text short, simple and concrete.
- Test your text by asking someone else to read it.
Writing helpful headings
Headings do not have to be short, it is more important that they are clear (within reasonable limits). A heading should:
- clearly state what the text is about;
- preferably contain one or more keywords, as search engines often search headings;
- be clear, correct and concrete;
- tempt the visitor to read more, however clarity should always be the main priority.
Subheadings are important. If you start by writing your subheadings, structuring the text will be easier. It is a good idea to use subheadings that are active, explaining what the visitor can achieve by reading the text, or what he/she should do.
Always use the styles available in the web editor for templates, as this will make it easier for search engines to find the headings.
How easily a page can be found by search engines is to a large extent decided by how the page is created in the web editor. You can increase searchability by entering a page title, using the preamble field and applying heading styles. The number of links to and from your web page will also affect searchability.
Do use images, but not only as decoration - make sure they go with the content. Take care when writing the caption, as this one of the most frequently read elements on a page, and a very useful tool for putting your point across.
Make sure that links that connect to a new format/new file (Word document, pdf etc.) or to external pages (outside SLU) always open in a new window.
Write link descriptions that help the visitors - they should not have to click on a link to see where it takes them. The link text should normally be the same as the heading of the page it leads to.
Check if the link is easy to find on the page, if not try and emphasise it e.g. by using a bullet list, an indent or bold.
Some general hints on style
- Address the reader directly, using 'you'.
- Use direct word order and simple sentence structures.
- Do not use uppercase without a good reason, as this gives the impression that you are shouting at the reader.
- Do not use italics, as they are hard to read on-screen.
- Put a date on the page, to show the visitor if the information is relevant.
- Avoid abbreviations.
Names at SLU
When writing in English, use the full name: the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The abbreviation SLU may be used in running text, provided it is explained the first time it is used. The names of departments, units etc. should be capitalised. For more information on names, please see the guide on writing and style.
More on languages at SLU
Under Communication/Language & writing you will find more information on languages and writing, including links to the SLU language policy, tips for plain-language writing and what to do if you need a translation.
If you want to read more, you will find a collection of interesting articles on web writing by web usability expert Jakob Nielsentry in the web-writing section on useit.com.
The web editors (email@example.com)