How do most users read your website? The bad news is that they don’t. Research shows that most people simply scan online. This means that content writers have to work hard to capture readers’ attention and encourage them to read.
Write for readers; not for your organisation. Your website may be your “shop window” but look at it from the users’ point of view. Most visitors are interested in their own goals: to find information, services or products. You need to identify your target audiences, work out why they’re visiting your site and how they’ll use it – and make sure it meets their needs. For example, your website structure doesn’t have to reflect the structure of your organisation. Instead, it should be organised in a way that is helpful and logical for users.
Write less. Don’t put lots of content online simply because you can. Give readers only the information they actually want and need. For example, don’t add background information unless you think users will actually need it. But if you have to publish certain information (e.g. for legal or compliance reasons), think twice before putting it on your most-visited pages.
Write shorter. Ensure the most visited pages are short and easy to read. Avoid wordy expressions that might be acceptable in reports. Don’t use six words where one will do (e.g. prefer ‘because’ to ‘in light of the fact that’). Aim for an average sentence length of 20 words and a maximum paragraph length of 5 lines.
Write simpler. Think of writing online as a conversation. Imagine you’re talking to your target audiences and use suitable language. You can still sound professional but you must avoid or explain jargon. Try to limit sentences to one main idea, fact or thought – with one secondary idea, if required.
Write stronger. Use strong active verbs and use “you” and “we” where possible. For example, instead of “The documents will be forwarded following the submission of the application form”, write “We will send you the documents after you submit the application form”. To sound more conversational, consider using contractions: “We’ll send you the documents after we receive the application form”.
On Tuesday 9th of October, Sarah Marriott will host a seminar on Writing for the Web. For event details click here
Sarah Marriott is a highly-experienced trainer and former-journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors.
Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English..