Web Writing 101 by Elizabeth Rhoads

Shortly after I had accepted my position as web content coordinator at Lycoming College, I had the opportunity to attend Neilsen Norman Group Usability Week in 2011. I’ve always considered myself to be a strong writer, but I never realized the notable differences between print and web writing.

The difference comes down to this: just because we can read at or above college level doesn’t mean we want to, especially when we’re online. Consider the atmosphere when you’re reading a book and when you’re reading something online. Usually reading a print piece lends itself to a quiet area, whereas online articles are often read on the go, with a lot of distractions.

Online content should be written with this fact in mind.

So, here are a few tips to transform your print writing into effective web content:

  • Keep all content between a sixth and eighth grade reading level
  • Use short words
  • Online text should be 50% less than the print version
  • Include information that people really need to know, rather than what you want to tell them
  • Break content into chunks (one idea and a maximum of three sentences per chunk)
  • Use bullet points – lists in bullet points are read 70% of the time (compared to 55% read in paragraph form)
  • Use a sans-serif font
  • Use size 10-12 font – don’t go any smaller, it’s hard on the eyes
  • Keep pages short, but if you need to make a page longer, include a summary at the top of the page, followed by descriptive subheading so that it’s easy to navigate

Remember, simple is better.  The simpler you keep it, the longer your audience will stay engaged with your website.

Elizabeth RhoadsElizabeth Rhoads currently works as web content coordinator for a small liberal arts college in Central Pennsylvania. She graduated from Susquehanna University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Communications. She is an alumna of the White House Internship Program.  Rhoads serves the PRSA New Professionals Section Executive Committee as programming director and chair-elect.

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