Web-Writing that Works
What we've discovered over the past decade is that people don’t read on-line. They also don’t read web pages with a lot of text. To get people to read half your words, you have to limit your page to 110 words or fewer. Some basic plain-language techniques (using active voice and avoiding hidden verbs) can help you eliminate words. But, you need to eliminate more than just words – make sure what you put up is really necessary.
Eliminate excess words and content
On average, visitors read about 18% of what’s on the page, and the more words you have, the lower the percent they read. So, use an inverted pyramid. Begin with the shortest and clearest statement you can make about your topic. Remember, seconds count! Here are some more writing tips to get your users reading quickly.
Help readers scan
Critical research published by Jakob Nielsen indicates reading from a computer screen is 25% slower than reading on paper. And another study by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen found that 79% of test users always scanned any new page they came across, while only 16% read word-by-word. As web writers, we can enable better document-scanning by providing clear links, headings, short phrases and sentences, and short paragraphs. In other words, plain language matters. Specific content can be found at www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/external link.
Identify and target your readers top tasks
People come to your website with a specific task in mind. If your website doesn’t help them complete that task, they’ll leave.
- Think topics, not stories.
- Think about having a conversation with your customer. Eliminate anything that’s not part of the conversation.
- A very few content pages might contain more extensive information.
- Write for your readers, not for your supervisor or co-workers.
Consider the following recommendations:
- Help citizens identify official federal government websites
- Write and organize from the audience's point of view
- Design and write so sites are easy to access and use
- Comply with Federal laws (set out in the guidelines)
For a quick summary of federal tips, refer to web content standards such as those developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.