10 Web Writing Tips

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  1. Put yourself in the reader's position
    What is the most important thing on your web-site for users? (Use your web statistics to form an opinion on this.) In each and every article, try to pinpoint what users will find to be most interesting or useful, and focus on this.
  2. Use the right trigger words
    When the user comes to your web-site, he or she has a mental picture of what he or she seeks, often a so-called "trigger word". If he comes from a search engine, it is the word that he or she used in his search query. NB: If the user does not find his or her trigger word on your web-site, he or she may quickly conclude that this content is not there (even if it is, but under another name). For example, a user searching for "glasses" will not automatically click on the word "visual aids". It is for this reason that it is counter-productive to use jargon in articles or navigation bars. Jargon fails because the user is looking for his or her trigger word, and does not find it. Therefore: Find out which words your users like to use to describe their search. Use these words and not your own internal jargon!
  3. Write meaningful headlines
    In order for a reader to get interested in an article or web-page, he or she has to know what the article or page is about. After that, the reader will determine whether it is relevant and interesting for him or her, and whether it answers his current question. Therefore: A good headline uses relevant trigger words (see above) and is descriptive - telling what the article is about. If you have a web-page about your humanitarian activities in Sudan, "Humanitarian activities in Sudan" would be a good title, and "Good results for school project" would not. Remember that headlines can end up being the entire story (when the article falls much lower on the page, or when another site cites your content). Then the headline will have to stand alone - with neither picture nor sub-head to clothe it - and still be able to convey the news.
  4. Write the article as a teaser
    A "teaser", consisting of a headline, sub-head and picture, should be able to inform the user of an event to such a degree that a user that is in a hurry (or who is only reading superficially) does not need to read the whole story. Those who are interested in reading more about the topic can click in on the entire story, while those who aren't so interested will still get the basic information.
  5. Say it as simple as possible
    There is never any point in writing difficult texts. Write simply and directly. To achieve this, think "How would I explain this to a child?" or "What would I have said if this was a classified advertisement?" when you write. The intention is not to underestimate the reader, but to write in an inclusive way. If you need to write an extensive and complex article (a scientific report, a medical analysis or the like), consider breaking it up into parts (see tip #9).
  6. Help readers read down the page
    Let the reader get a quick grasp of the article by simply glancing at the page. Techniques to help readers look down the page are:
    1. sub-heads
    2. links
    3. bullet points
    4. bold-face words (preferably trigger words)
    Remember that these elements must give a complete description of the article when the reader simply looks down the page (seeing only headlines, links, points and bold or underlined words). Pay attention to the fact that you can spin or twist a whole article by choosing to make bold one word, so be careful!
  7. Create space on the screen
    Few things kill a reader's desire to read than a massive and visually impenetrable block of letters. Only the most dedicated readers will dare to begin upon such an article (basically less than 5 per cent - check your statistics if you don't believe me). Therefore, create space! Break text up into paragraphs, sub-titles, pictures, lists and bold-face words so that the page doesn't appear visually like an impregnable fortress.
  8. A picture speaks more than a thousand words...
    Text is not the best medium to convey all types of information. Take a weather map for example; you get just about everything at a glance. If you tried to convey the same information in text, the page would become far more cumbersome and confusing. So consider whether your information can be conveyed better via pictures, numbers, models, statistical diagrams or the like.
  9. Use a two- or many-layered strategy
    If you must convey a demanding text, consider doing it over two different pages: Make one simple tabloid article, which explains that the content can be obtained or which presents the main point of the larger text. Set up a link to the entire report/text/evaluation for those who are particularly interested in it. This full-size version can be both a web-page and a downloadable document, which makes it searchable by search engines and easier to handle for those who want to download it, print it out and read it on paper.
  10. Watch out for typos!
    It is hard to catch your own mistakes, so set up routines whereby a colleague double-checks your work, if possible. Remember that a misspelled word not only looks stupid, but can also confuse a search engine. A user looking for "Canada" on your web-site will not get a hit for an article that mentions "Caanada".