Tips for Writing for the Web
By Mindy McAdams
Short Paragraphs > A 100-word paragraph looks pretty long on a Web page. Long paragraphs send a signal to the reader: This will require effort. The writer expected you to have a lot of spare time. Sit down and read awhile. Short paragraphs send a different message: I'm easy! This won't take long at all! Read me!
Chunks > Size does matter.
Headings > The heading at the top of the page should make absolutely clear what the page contains or concerns. The text under the heading must not repeat the heading information (see redundancy, below right).
Subheadings > If the page text exceeds 300 words, subheadings will help the reader scan the page efficiently and happily.
Boldface > Depending on the content, words or phrases in boldface can help readers find what they want. Combining boldface and subheadings could lead to visual noise, so do not overdo it. Combining links and boldface text in the same paragraph could have the same unsightly result.
Lists > Numbered, bulleted or other indented
lists help the reader make sense of the information on the page. In many
print contexts, lists would look ugly and thus are not used. On Web pages,
lists work well in almost all contexts. Like paragraphs, lists appeal
more to the reader when they are short.
Brevity > Write tight. Omit all unnecessary words.*
Sentence Structure > Be straightforward. While a meandering introductory clause may seem like a good idea to you, the reader might stop reading -- before she gets to the heart of your sentence.
Active Verbs > It is easy to write with passive verbs (am, is, are, has, have). Using active verbs makes the writer work harder -- but the reader benefits. The writer also benefits, because the reader stays interested. Passive verbs bore readers. Bored readers leave.
Say What You Mean > Try saying it out loud before you write it. We tend to speak more directly than we write. We get to the point more quickly, too, when we can see the listener's eyes glazing over.
Redundancy > Reading the same information twice wastes a person's time.
* The classic source of this advice: The Elements of Style, 1918. See Item 13, "Omit needless words."
What They Say > Link text should not break any of the rules given for text (at left). A link must give the reader a reasonable expectation of what she will get when she clicks. Linked phrases such as "click here" or "Web page" do not provide helpful information.
What They Do > A link that does not open something or take the user to a new Web page seems to be a broken link. When the link will take the user to a different place on the same page, or open a media player, give the user a cue.
How They Look > A long phrase (more than
about five words) can be hard to read, or just ugly, when underlined and/or
in a highlight color. Links that are not underlined and do not appear
in a different color from the surrounding text are almost impossible for
the users to see.
Online Journalism: Examples and production links.
Online Media Types: A grid to help you think about the different ways we tell stories online.
Interactivity: A list of references relevant to mass communication and media studies.
Scholarship: A short, current reference list of journal articles about online journalism.
|Contents of this page copyright © 2003 by Melinda J. McAdams. All Rights Reserved. Printed copies of this page may be used for educational purposes only if this copyright notice and the URL of this page are included. Anyone may link to this page, but no one may enclose this page in a frameset. It is a violation of U.S. and international copyright law to include this text on another Web page or to use it in print without a complete attribution acknowledging the source and the author. (Last updated: 19 Nov 2006)|