Writing for the web is a challenge. There are usually word length restrictions, the fact that users scan rather than read every word, and sometimes style guides to adhere to.
There are enough writing tips online to keep you reading for longer than you probably desire. Here are 1o tips that have been the most useful to me:
Know your audience
This sounds obvious but is often taken for granted. The only way you can write relevant copy that is targeted at the right audience in the right tone of voice, is to understand who that audience is. Depending on where your audience are located, you may have to include local expressions or if writing for a wide audience be specific with things such as dollars. If it is US dollars then say so. If it is Cardiff in Wales then say so as there is also a Cardiff in New Zealand and other countries.
Decide why you are writing?
Linked to the previous tip, as well as knowing who you are writing for you need to know why you are writing for them. Is it to get them to register, persuade them to buy something, deliver information to them or get them to subscribe to something?
Your answer to this question should determine what you write.
A well thought of and clear headline can generate four times the interest of a poor one. Headlines shouldn’t be longer than 7 words and should be written in the present tense.
Avoid the use of ALL UPPER CASE in your copy as it takes 57% longer to read. Also avoid starting every word with a capital letter in your headings.
Choose the right words
Certain words can hold the reader’s attention whilst others can turn them off. Words that people like include thoughtful, imagination, progress, and ambition. Less popular words include dispute, failure, weak, and extravagant.
Use contractions. That is, use ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’ and ‘doesn’t’ instead of ‘does not’. Whilst some are of the opinion that the contractions are bad English, they do make the copy less formal and more conversational which is often the tone of voice and style that is required on the web.
Avoid using these if possible. It would be careless to assume that everybody who visits your site will understand the meaning of any acronyms you use. However, this is linked to knowing your audience. The same rule here applies to jargon, avoid as best you can, cutting out any unnecessary complexities.
Minimise punctuation as best you can. Punctuation marks can be difficult to discern on screens, especially semi-colons, so try using commas or shorter sentences instead.
Your hyperlinked words tend to stand out against standard copy so should be relevant and motivate the user into carrying out an action. I don’t like ‘click here’ but if this is used, it is more effective to use it along with some contextual information, so ‘click here to apply for a loan’. This way the user knows exactly where they will be led.
The right length
Keep your sentences short. If they are too long then reader’s interest will dip and your message will become muddled. One rule of thumb is that sentences should be between 15 and 20 words long. Please don’t count all my sentences in this article, just in case I broke the rule!
Paragraphs should be no more than 5 lines of type long, or in depth. Also, a good measure to abide by is that there should be no more than three sentences per paragraph.
Make your copy digestible by using sub sections, headings and lists where appropriate. If you do use lists try not to have more than 6 items in each one.
Another obvious point but not always one that is carried out. Proof reading and editing should be a matter of course when it comes to writing. If a user is deep in your text and spots an error it will immediately break the connection between them and your site.
They are some of my favourite tips. If you have any of your own then please share them in the comments below.