Writing for the online world is different from writing for print. People don’t read online; they scan. In his study about how people read online, Jakob Nielsen found that “on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.”
What does that mean for your content? It means you have to follow some basic guidelines for clear writing, such as:
- Use short words and short sentences.
- Put your keywords up front.
- Write clear headlines and sub-heads. Make them summarize your story. They may be the only thing your visitors read.
- Put your most important information in the first paragraph. Don’t expect people to scroll to find it.
- Use bullets or numbered lists to break up the copy. At the same time, break up your bullet points with introductory and summary sentences.
- Use active voice. People understand it more easily than passive voice.
- Make positive statements. People understand statements like “it is safe” faster than they understand “it is not dangerous.” And positive statements are often shorter than their opposites.
- “Chunk” your content. Cover one—and only one—idea in each paragraph.
- Remember that words aren’t everything. Break up your copy with white space, visuals and infographics, to make your point more effectively.
- Use Microsoft’s Readability Statistics feature in Word to determine the education level of your writing. A standard rule of thumb is to write at a level that is four years below the expected education level of your audience.
- Another useful tool is the Hemingway app.
Find other useful hints in the “Writing for the Web” articles at the Usability.gov and New York University websites.