Writing for the Web

14108561722_2a5c4984da_zWhat websites do you like reading? What ones do you glance at once and never come back to? Have you ever thought that your favorite websites might be just that because of the way the content is presented?

One of the biggest challenges for academic and educational websites is to inform, but not bog down, the website visitor. People are used to being able to quickly digest little snippets of information when they’re looking at a screen, rather than reading long paragraphs of prose.

Good content developed for your website also increases the accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO) of your website by tailoring the words to be concise and descriptive.

Usability.gov states this well:

When writing for the web, using plain language allows users to find what they need, understand what they have found, and then use it to meet their needs. It should also be actionable, findable, and shareable.

It’s important to understand how what you are writing fits into the overall content strategy, what the content life cycle entails, and who is involved in the process.

The way to help people find information on your website is to:

  • Break it up into chunks
  • Use bullets instead of complex sentences
  • Use headers to separate the chunks
  • Put the most important (or a summary of all) information at the top
  • Use short sentences and active voice
  • Use images and white space to give the eye a place to rest between larger chunks of text
  • Use spell check, and proofread your text

What about links?

When you have links on your page, be sure that the text that is linked is actually descriptive. This helps SEO and accessibility, as well as helping to guide the visitor through your site.

Don’t rely on “Learn more” or “Read more” all the time.

Instead, write: “Learn more about beef cattle.” or “Read more about Virginia Tech’s biochemistry research.”

It is longer, but by linking full text instead of generic words, you help the visitor know where they are going next.

How is tone important?

People respond to pages that appear to be written for them. If your audience is a little more casual, then make the language a little more casual. If you have a broad audience, don’t be too formal or too casual — you’ll end up losing everyone. Stay away from jargon, and if you have to use it, be prepared to provide links to definitions or a glossary. Write as a representative of your larger unit’s brand, not just as yourself, the individual (except in the case of your own personal website).

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About Susan Gill

Web Project Manager, Office of Communications and Marketing, 133 Smyth Hall, Virginia Tech, 540-231-6630
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