Writing for the Web

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Writing for the Web 17 Aug2016

Writing for the Web

This article is intended to provide some basic guidelines for writing for the web.  Much of this is garnered from years of experience in the web industry and is highly opinionated towards keeping the web de-cluttered and easy to read.  As the web and trends constantly change, we will endeavour to keep this updated over time.


User behaviour while consuming content online versus offline varies dramatically.  Studies carried out by the Neilsen Norman Group found that only 16% of users read new content word-by-word with 79% of users in their study scanning the content over several seconds.  Various studies conducted over the years have supported this data.  The moral of the story, users simply don’t read on the web, therefore, it is important to craft our content to be consumed easily by scanning or skim-reading.

Here is a detailed article on how users read on the web >

Below we outline some basic strategies to better target web-based readers:

Page length – Concise is nice

As a standard, we like to keep pages under 500 words as a maximum.  Anything longer than this is usually heading into waffle territory.  Keeping your content short and concise keeps things nice & easy for the user.  

Strategies to break up content

  • Keep paragraphs short with white space to separate them.
  • Lines of text should be kept to around 50-75 characters to avoid reader exhaustion
  • Split topics into sub headings
  • Split ideas into bullet points
  • Bold key words in your content to allow ease of scanning

Further reading: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/chunking/

Language & tone

The language & tone used in the writing should be consistent and at a reading level suited to your audience.  Too high a reading level may confuse some audiences, whereas a reading level that is too low may alienate other audiences.  The trick is to find the right balance and implement this as a standard company-wide.

Further reading: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/tone-of-voice-dimensions/

Match the content to the design

Where specific content areas are designed to look best with a specific amount of content, try not to exceed (or fall short of) the amount of text the area is designed for.  Exceeding this may have undesirable consequences in terms of the aesthetics of the site.

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