There are also some particular issues that you should keep in mind when writing for the web, to help ensure that you are writing in the best way to get your message across.
A visitor will have arrived at your page by one of many different routes:
Because you can never know which pages they have seen before yours, your content has to make sense out of context. You should always provide links to related information.
Studies have shown that reading onscreen is around 25% slower than reading from paper. This is due to:
Around 80% of the time people do not read word for word, they do something called scanning.
Scanning means that people will:
Computers are seen by many people as being cold, unfriendly and hard to use. Most people are only looking at your site because they need to find some specific information, not for fun. Error messages and other technical language can make using your site a frustrating experience.
The first things that people will look at on your page are often the links, so make sure they make sense without having to read the surrounding text.
Avoid using phrases such as click here, which do not make sense when the link is read out of context. Be descriptive, but avoid using generic terms which do not convey any information. For example, writing for the web is better than learn more about writing for the web ("learn more about" doesn't convey any extra information).
Structuring your document with headings and subheadings makes it easy for the reader to quickly get to the information they are looking for. Like links, headings should be descriptive.
Search engines place a high weighting on the words that appear in the headings on your pages, so headings that match the words used by your audience will help your pages to appear higher in search rankings.
By putting everything online, important information can get lost amongst much less useful content. Navigation menus become overly long and searches return irrelevant results.
Before adding any content, always make sure that it is important to the audience you are writing for. For example, prospective students may need a brief overview of the facilities in your department, while current students will need details of room numbers, opening hours, booking procedures, etc.
Another source of excessive content is unnecessary instructional text, which is unlikely to be read. For example, if you are providing a list of links, there is no need to have a paragraph before these links telling your reader to “click the links below”.
If you find that your users are having difficulty completing a process on your site, you should look improving at the usability of the process. Adding large amounts of instructional text has the effect of making the process look daunting before the user even begins.
Writing in a friendly, genuine style will help to draw readers in and make them more likely to read your content.
Writing in the first person (using "us" and "we" rather than "The Department of XYZ") is much more friendly, and has the added bonus of cutting down the number of words in your content.
Once you've drawn your reader in with easy to read, well formatted and friendly text, what do you want them to do now? Order a prospectus? Join a mailing list? Get in contact with you?
Whatever the action is, make sure that it is clear to the reader, and easy for them to do it. Never leave them at a dead end, for example by saying "Contact us for details", but then not providing contact details.
Who to contact
Paul Kelly, Web Content and Design Officer