Writing for the Web: Writing to be read
Users don't read a web page; they scan it for headings, hyperlinks, bold keywords and links.
Reading on screen is not comfortable (25% slower than on paper): make it efficient with headings, images or graphics and a bit of white space.
Internet is interactive: use a conversational style (warm and friendly), use 'we' and 'you'.
Make your text scannable
- Organise headings and navigation to outline the story: even a reader who skims your document takes away your message.
- Use meaningful headings and sub-headings: short and snappy, the first 2 words should be the most relevant. Insert a sub-heading every few paragraphs.
Hierarchy of headings shouldn't be deeper than two levels.
- Highlight keywords: bold at the beginning of a paragraph, italic for emphasis.
- Use bulleted lists; use numbered list only if the order matters.
Limit lists to no more than two levels (primary and secondary). If your list is longer than 9 items, break it up into multiple lists with separate sub-headings.
- Introduce your page: start with the conclusion and make it stand out; gradually build up; end with background information.
- Use meaningful pictures. Give a unique 'text equivalent' to an illustration (or table) - this is a requirement for accessibility
- Don't number illustrations by chapter or section. If you keep one topic per page, figure numbers are usually not necessary.
Convert your text for the web
Keep it short and simple
- A Website does not have a beginning or an end - visitors do not always start at the home page. Every page must explain itself and its relationship to the whole.
- A website does not work in straight lines: change the layout, mix text and images (make sure that images have 'text equivalent'; don't use images instead of text) - this is a requirement for accessibility
- Cut down the text to half the word count or less: get to the point quickly and avoid redundant words, be specific and choose familiar words. Avoid jargon and acronyms.
Create links to documents (PDFs): longer documents, tables or figures, or reference material.
- Average sentence length should be 15-20 words.
- Few sentences per paragraph, one idea per paragraph with key words at the beginning. Try not to have any paragraphs longer than seven lines.
- Keep the most important message 'above the fold'.
- Avoid capitalised or underlined words. Don't fix the size of the text; don't rely on colour - this is a requirement for accessibitlity
Please follow the University guidelines on how to write and format documents.
Focus on the action
Although academic writing is often passive, use a minimum of passive sentences (aim for a maximum of 30% passive sentences).
Avoid negative expressions: positive wording sounds better.
Focus on your reader
The text should be closer to what the reader wants to know than to what the writer wants to say.
Create effective links
- Choose keywords as links, be descriptive but brief.
Avoid Web capability references: describe the destination, not what to do to get there (avoid 'Click here' or 'More', these words don't contain any information on the content, and destinations seem random and unpredictable) - this is a requirement for accessibility
- Links need to indicate the content of the destination - this is a requirement for accessibility
- Links catch the attention: limit links if the user is likely to skip vital information.
- Cluster cross-references under a 'See also' (or similar) heading where appropriate.
Editing & Proof Reading
Polish the content of your web pages before you publish them. Check the spelling, grammar, punctuation and consistency.
In order, polish the pages, paragraphs, sentences and words.
You can find more recommendations on the University Writing for the Web page.
Keep your content up to date
Set an expiration date on web pages at the time you write them, with a suggested date 6 to 12 months in the future. Once a page has 'expired', review and update its content (including embedded links); alternatively, remove or archive the page.
Good online content that is concise, authentic and useful is your best Search Engine Optimization, even when algorithms change!
The NeWT content management system takes care of the technical aspects of accessibility on your behalf. However, you still need to be aware of the content specific accessibility issues mentioned earlier in this document.
More information on Accessibility Statement is listed on the University website.