Writing for the Web

Writing for the web is different than writing for print.  Research shows that more readers than ever, and especially intellectual ones, skim through articles on the web at a pace much faster than they can actually read it. You have very little time to capture their attention before they make a decision about you, and possibly leave your site altogether.

Effective web copy is tight, concise, and clearly formatted.  Rather than saying everything, it gives just the main points and encourages users to explore other pages of the site, or to contact you for more information.

Primary elements of effective web copy are further detailed in the “Gold Standards for JSU Web Content” at www.jsums.edu/webcontent.

Ideas & details

  • Establish a clear purpose for each site and page to ensure clarity and focus. What do you want your visitors to think or do?
  • Emphasize the ONE most important thing visitors should know to create concision and increase relevance.  What is the Main Idea?
  • Include sufficient detail to improve understanding and clarity. Use examples, explanations, and evidence.
  • Link related content when possible so pages don’t get too long.

Sentence Fluency

  • Use short, simple sentences to increase readability, clarity, and understanding.
  • Use the active voice to create clearer, simpler sentences that are easier to understand and sound authoritative and confident.

Organization & Formatting

  • Use explanatory subheads to introduce new concepts to help people find what’s important to them (and improve SEO).
  • When possible, create a three-level hierarchy (Headline, Subhead, Subsubhead).
  • Use bold-face to call attention to key information.
  • Use pictures, photos, videos, and infographics that illustrate key points.
  • Use bullets for lists of three or more items or to create an easy-to-scan summary of information.
  • Keep pages to 500 words maximum.  On the web, less is always best.

Word Choice

  • Use as few words as possible.  If you’re inserting existing content from elsewhere, start by cutting 20%, then see how you can cut further.
  • Use strong, simple verbs to convey action.
  • Be accurate and factual.

Voice & Tone

  • Be conversational and friendly.
  • Be reassuring and encouraging.
  • Use the active voice wherever possible.
  • Avoid self-congratulatory or “puffed-up” words and phrases. Be humble and professional, and let others say those things for you.

When writing for the web, you must be compelling and correct and offer links to take visitors deeper into your site and your information. The further they go, the more detail you can offer them.

Proofread carefully. Typos and grammatical errors reflect poorly, especially at an academic institution.