How to Write Good Web Content - dummies

By Bud E. Smith

Writing for the Web has its own style. Learning to use it can make your Web page much more interesting and effective. The new style of writing found online is based on four underlying realities about the Web:

  • The capabilities of HTML: HTML allows you to specify some simple text formatting, headings, and lists. Newer versions of HTML also allow you to specify fonts and specific text sizes, but these may be displayed differently on different computers, and a user can override these specifications.

    What it means for you: Don’t count on complicated formatting and specific layout to get your message across. Keep it simple.

  • The difficulty of reading from a computer screen: A computer screen has much lower resolution than a printed page and the computer screen glows. Reading from the screen is harder, and people’s eyes get tired when they try to read long blocks of text on-screen.

    Zooming in shows how “chunky” on-screen letters are.
    Zooming in shows how “chunky” on-screen letters are.

    What it means for you: Shy away from long blocks of text. People skim rather than read online, so you are unlikely to have your site visitor’s attention for long. Write small chunks of text, and break it up by using headers, lists, quotes, and other devices. Go through the text again and cut what you write down to the fewest words possible.

  • The ease of clicking away: Web content is voluminous, so users are always enticed to go elsewhere.

    What it means for you: Make your text as interesting as possible. Take advantage of the ease of clicking away: Include relevant hyperlinks in your Web text.

  • Web style: Web writing is characterized by a lack of hype and an informal tone, but a strong need for accuracy — correct facts and no typos.

    What it means for you: Make sure your grammar, facts, spelling, and punctuation are accurate.

If you have something dense that you really want people to read, put it on a separate Web page and encourage people to print it. Or, put it in a PDF file that the user can download and print. Users are more likely to read, rather than scan, printed text and can mark up the copy with notes and highlighting.

Readers get far more content for a given amount of effort from print than they do from online content. So when writing for the Web, you need to keep your text short, your layout simple, and your content interesting.

Once you think you’ve got your text short enough, start over. Identify the main point of your piece and make that the first sentence of a rewritten version. Include just enough supporting detail to explain your point. Then include each of your main supporting points, again with just a bit of detail. You should end up with about one-third the words you would use if you were writing for print.