Writing for the Web – tips 2

I attended an ITLP Writing for the Web course in OUCS yesterday and thought I’d share some tips I picked up.

Before you start your web page or website you should do the following:

  1. clarify the objective – write this in one sentence
  2. clarify the audience
  3. gather relevant information
  4. think about the structure

When writing material

  • the first paragraph on a page needs to be the conclusion; this is the opposite way around to ‘normal’ writing – the attention span of readers on the web is low, you need to snare them and reel them in straight away otherwise the message is lost
  • the first sentence of a paragraph should say what the paragraph is about (see above)
  • make your page scannable:
    • use highlighting for key issues but don’t overdo it, readers often only scan the headings, highlighted text and hyper-links
    • use bullet-point lists
    • make it concise – web readers have less patience
      • keep it short – 15-20 words per sentence
      • keep it simple
      • cut the waffle
      • focus on the action – use active voice not passive voice: “dog bit man” is active “man was bitten by dog” is passive
      • focus on the reader – use appropriate language, be positive, remove all ambiguity
      • get it right – use correct punctuation and spelling, this gives the reader confidence
      • make it look good – use images, subtle use of colour, use sans serif fonts
        • when using the WYSIWYG HTML editor in WebLearn always start a page from a template (click the button)
    • use meaningful and correctly nested headings (this is also very important for accessibility)
      • the first two words of a heading are the most important: use “Diana killed in car crash” not “Car crash kills Diana”
      • use content specific words at the start of a heading: use “Hurricanes – general information” not “General information about hurricanes”
    • have one idea per paragraph
    • have 2-3 sentences per paragraph
    • put the conclusion first – make it concise
  • make your pages accessible (this is a legal requirement for educational material)
  • use consistent terminology
  • think about what the reader needs to know not what you want to tell them
  • use browser plug-ins to help authoring (or develop the text in Word first but remember to take care when pasting into a WYSIWYG HTML editor – see below)
  • if you are developing a series of pages then make sure navigation is included, Dreamweaver will help you do this; breadcrumb menus help here
    • use spell check and grammar check

Using Word to Author text

It is a good idea to prepare your text in Word but do not paste this directly into a WYSIWYG HTML editor, if you do this the resultant web page will be a complete dogs breakfast with all sorts of unwanted mark-up being stored behind the scenes.

When using Word:

  • use the spell check and grammar check
  • use Tools > Options > Spelling > Readability Statistics to report on use of passive voice
  • don’t worry about highlighting, formatting and layout
  • copy the text with a mouse and post into a plain text editor such as Notepad
  • copy the text from Notepad and paste into the WYSIWYG HTML editor this will remove all the garbage that Word inserts behind the scenes
  • format the text in the WYSIWYG HTML editor

Useful links

Usability

Style Guide

Accessibility

Grammar and Spelling etc.

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