Writing for the Web

Your website users consume content online differently than they read printed materials – often skimming information as they try to complete a task. Follow these tips to improve usability of your website content.


Plan Your Content

Before you begin writing (or cutting and pasting from existing materials) spend some time planning how best to organize your content. Consider:

  • Your primary audience – Who is this content for?
  • Their primary task(s) – Why will users come to this content? What will the accomplish? (Hint: this should be the main focus/call to action on the page)
  • What key information needs to be included?
  • Where will the new content live within your existing structure? What will the URL be?
  • Who will manage the content going forward?

This content planning tool can help organize your planning.


Writing Tips

Your web content should be like a conversation with your user. Leave more formal language behind and write like you talk.

  • Use us or we to refer your department/organization and you or your to refer to your audience.
  • Use active language (and avoid passive voice)
  • Break the rules for formal writing – It's fine to use contractions and sentence fragments.

Use plain and simple language that everyone can understand. Avoid jargon and acronyms when possible.

Use caution when using idioms, metaphors, and cultural references – these may not make sense to users who speak a different primary language and those with cognitive differences.

Use headings to break text into sections and make content more findable.

Be sure to mark up headings properly – see heading structures.

Avoid having a long wall of text that users can't skim by keeping information short and to the point.

  • short words – use simpler words when possible
  • short sentences – split longer sentences into two or eliminate unneeded information
  • short paragraphs – 2-3 sentences max; it is fine to have only one sentence in a paragraph

Bulleted and numbered lists can help users quickly scan information.

Bullets are good for listing options.

User numbered lists for instructions that outline steps in a process.


Formatting Text

Use bold and colored text sparingly.

Editors often bold entire paragraphs or multiple sections to make things stand out. This can actually make text harder to read. Rewrite your content to be clearer instead.

Text in all uppercase letters is harder for users to read. All caps may be used in headings, but avoid in body copy.

Users typically skim down the left column of the page. Right justified and centered text is harder to read.

Underlined text should only be used for links.

Italicized text is hard to read. Use sparingly for book titles and short phrases (a few words max).


Resources

Writing for the Web Training (Powerpoint)

UArizona Style Guide

Learn UX (from UX@UA a campus group focused on user experience)

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works (Book by Ginny Redish, available at the UArizona Libraries)

Don't Make Me Think (Book by Steve Krug, available at the UArizona Libraries)

Writing Effectively in Print and On the Web (Book by Rebecca Blakiston, available at the UArizona Libraries)