By Tiffany Hamilton, Associate
Web copy is:
Conversational and Simple.
Below are some tips for writing Web-friendly copy:
Scanable: Print copy often consists of large blocks of text that people are expected to read word-for-word. Web copy is scanable—meaning that the main ideas are clear at a glance and information is quick and easy to find. Copy can be made scanable by employing the following techniques:
- Use bold headings and subheads: Sub-heads give readers a quick overview of a topic—and allow readers to skip over chunks of copy that aren’t directly related to the information they’re looking for.
- Use bullets: bullets are easy to scan because they stand out from chunks of copy—enabling the reader to easily find them. They are also brief, direct, and easy to read.
- Use short paragraphs – Paragraphs should be no longer than 2-4 sentences (preferably 2-3 sentences), consisting of 40-70 words, and a total of 5 lines.
- Limit each paragraph to one idea. This will help you write short paragraphs and will be easier for the impatient Web scanner to follow.
- Use transition words at the beginnings of sentences – such as “but,” “also,” “because,” “and,” etc. Transitions make copy more scanable and easy to follow.
- Delete every unnecessary word in copy. Do this by looking for redundancies in copy. Examples: “ask the question” vs. “ask” or “past history” vs. “history.” Also search for wordy phrases. Examples “a large number of” vs. “many” or “for the purpose” of instead vs. “for,” etc.
- Adjectives and adverbs can unnecessarily clutter copy, so make sure they’re doing necessary work if they’re included in copy.
- Use the active voice. It is more concise and engaging than the passive voice.
- Keep sentences short and simple. As a rule, semicolons don’t belong on websites!
- Web readers are intimidated by long chunks of copy. They want to find information easily and quickly, and they want to avoid the aggravation of endlessly scrolling down a Web page. In addition to keeping your paragraphs short, include a variety of subheads and bullets in your copy to break the monotony of paragraphs.
- Break up more lengthy articles by inserting page number links (1,2,3, etc.) at the bottom of each page.
Conversational & Simple
- Web copy is more conversational and less formal than writing for print. Web readers want to be engaged and since the Web has a universal audience, it’s safest to write at an eighth grade reading level. This means avoiding pretentious language and big words —in general, don’t use words that exceed three syllables. And always brainstorm ways to simplify copy. For example, say “do” instead of “accomplish” or “use” instead of “utilize.”
- Writing conversationally is writing how you talk when you’re speaking well. The first or second person is more preferable than the less personal, more formal third person.
- Avoid overlinking – It’s annoying for every other word in copy to be a link. It makes readers feel as if they have to click each link as they’re reading. So use links in copy, but avoid overdoing it. If you want to include extensive links, place them at the end of an article—so the readers can visit them for more information.
- Avoid all caps – Using all caps is like shouting at readers on the Web. So unless you want to really shout a point, it’s best to avoid using them.
- Avoid excessive formatting – too much bold, italic and/or underlined text can make Web copy look busy and hard to read.
1. Web Teaching Articles – Writing for the Web
2. Useit.com – Usability guru Jakob Nielson’s premiere website on usability. Contains a number of articles and studies about website writing.
3. Writing for the Web, by Jakob Nielson - www.sun.com/980713/webwriting
4. Writing for the Web: www.efuse.com/Design/web_writing_basics.html
Schultz & Williams is a national consulting firm based in Philadelphia providing management, fundraising and marketing consulting for nonprofit organizations, along with full-service direct marketing, database and creative/production services.