Writing for the web

Writing for the web is important because our reading habits are different when we read online. We often need to find information quickly so we scan and skim content whereas when we read print, we tend to take our time. This article will help you to write well for the web.  

The main differences between reading online and in print

Reading online

  • Task-driven
  • Quick
  • Multiple direction
  • Interactive content
  • Often have distractions (such as pop ups and media).

Reading in print

  • Leisurely
  • Slow
  • Linear
  • Immersive content
  • Few distractions.

A guide to good content

Knowing the main differences between reading online and in print allows us to adapt the way we write so that our content meets our users' needs. 

Good online content is:

  • useful,
  • accurate,
  • interesting and engaging,
  • short and simple,
  • findable.

A simple checklist for writing great content

If you structure your web content in a way that makes it easy to scan, your readers are more likely to get the information that they need.

Use this checklist to make sure your content is written for easy online reading:

  • Use plain English - there's nothing worse than having to reach for the dictionary when you're reading an article online. Plain English is also better for those using assistive technology and for users who don't have English as their first language.
  • Use the words your readers would use and aim for a reading age of 12 years old (but a maximum of 15 years old).
  • Put the important information first.
  • Chunk up your content.
  • Make your headlines and subheadings clear.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use bulletted and numbered lists to aid scanning.
  • Use pronouns.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Include images, diagrams and other media.
  • Leave plenty of white space to aid scanning.

Good housekeeping

But there's more to great content than just writing it. To make sure your content stays relevant and serves its purpose you should perform regular checks for accuracy and relevance. And you should also check how your content is performing.