Research shows web readers prefer lean text. Imagine your reader as impatient, even stressed—someone looking for sources of succinct information. To write concisely:
Help your audiences find the information they seek more efficiently. Readers who scan don't like to scroll through long web pages. Chunk your information into meaningful sections. Then:
Edit out all nonessential information. Avoid words and phrases that sound like jargon. Avoid any jargon unless you’re targeting a specialized audience. Even then, ask, will newcomers to the field understand what I mean?
for easy accessing by search engines and for readers who are scanning. Key words are also an element of the metadata that’s important to the success of your text.
All the evidence points to the inevitable: People won't read your page when it's wordy, full of fluff or jargon, or not chunked into meaningful pieces. Remember, people will enter your site from many different points. You can't expect web users to read your content in a linear fashion.
Do whatever you can to attract and keep your clients coming back to your website for more.
Familiar serif and sans serif fonts are, in most cases, the best choice for publishing chunks of text on the web. Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica are good sans serif choices. Georgia, Times New Roman, and Times are good serif choices.
Web readers give you but a few seconds to persuade them you've got what they're looking for. The inverted pyramid is the perfect device to grab readers looking for factual content.
Start with your conclusion and build down to the background information. Better still, link to detailed and background information. Web readers will pursue what they want.
Readers prefer to read web lines of 40 to 60 characters long—short lines are easier on the eye. Most readers scan for information and have trouble finding it in dense blocks of text.
A good headline or subhead is brief, simple, and meaningful. Web surfers can come to your site from many different directions, particularly when they’re using a search tool that looks for key words. Thus, each page on your site should carry a meaningful headline—one that can stand alone out of the context of the rest of your pages.
A word about “welcome”… Web users are gathering information and want quick access to that information. Don’t make the mistake of using “welcome” in your title or main heading or writing a welcoming introduction to your site. “Welcome” wastes a keyword and does nothing to help search engines find you; a welcoming intro is superfluous.
They're easier to read and scan. The format helps you more concisely shape your content. Numbered lists help your readers pinpoint the next step. When you bury the information in a paragraph, your readers get frustrated.
You'll help your readers scan more efficiently. Use a color—reserve blue for links—or simply use a boldface font. Remember, only 20 percent of web readers read every word.
On your page, aligned rows, columns, subheadings, and graphic elements are easiest to read.
Graphics and words work together, and the reader uses both to navigate. Experienced surfers expect a colored bar at the top or left of the page to offer links to key sections of the site. Although the center of the page will attract attention first, most readers instinctively look to the top and side for navigational cues.
The title, which appears above your browser tool bar, is used by search engines to find your page. Include key words in your title. Home pages for county Extension offices at Oregon State University have titles like this: “Oregon State University Extension Service, Columbia County,” which fits within the 65-character limit Google uses to display titles on its search pages.
Some users like to read and make notes on hard copies; others fear the information may not always be available online.
Web readers look for marks of credibility when scanning a web page. Here's how you can be credible:
You know when your audience and subject matter may make it appropriate to break the rules. Apply a bit of the "less is better" principle. Ask for feedback from clients and co-workers, and you'll be on your way to having a web page or site that’s alluring, attractive, and easy to read.
Go to http://usability.gov/guidelines/ for information about page length, scrolling vs. linking and scrolling vs. paging, page density, information placement, formatting for efficient viewing, use of links, and more.
For in-depth information about website content and design, try http://www.webstyleguide.com/.
Source: Kathy Wright and Susan Bale, 2001, Kansas State University Research and Extension; adapted and updated, with permission, in 2006, with information from http://usability.gov/guidelines/ and Oregon State University Extension.
Alt tags or text is copy that appears to users who mouse-over a missing graphic image (or copy that’s “spoken” to sight-impaired users, with readers). Provide all your graphic images with alt tags that describe the image and tell the reader its purpose.
Hyperlinks (or links) are words or graphics that enable you to link to another place in your document or to a different document. Hyperlinks move you to the new place when you click on them. Set text hyperlinks apart from regular copy by using a different font color (usually blue) and underlining.
Other writing online resources
Web Style Guide, 2nd ed.
For more information, contact Sue Johnston
Last updated: 07/19/2011