Writing for the web: Adapt your content for digital platforms
User expectations, fussy search engines, countless devices, oh my! These and other factors require a tailored approach to writing for the web.
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Are people viewing your site on a mobile phone or a desktop monitor? Are they familiar with your group, or are they newcomers to your work? Are they using an assistive device such as a screen reader or custom keyboard?
Since you can’t answer these questions and adjust your site for each visitor, it’s important to invest time into making your site easy to read and navigate for everyone who’s likely to visit.
Furthermore, as this writing for the web course points out, people normally read only 20% of the content on an average page. It’s important to write for visitors who on are a mission to quickly find what they need!
Fortunately, effective web content is more likely to be accessible to people with disabilities and optimized for search engine rankings. Here are a few tips to get started.
Writing and editing
- Write using the words your audience uses, not the words your office or department uses internally.
- Keep content short, descriptive and skimmable. Front load paragraphs and bullet points by placing the key idea first, so users can quickly scan.
- Include links that your readers will find helpful — to findings, organizations, or other information you reference in the text.
- Make link text descriptive and informative. Avoid creating links that say “click here.” (See our tips for writing link text.)
- Avoid using PDFs to post information. When possible, add the information directly to a webpage instead of as just a PDF. (Here’s an example of turning a PDF into a page.)
- Don’t duplicate information from other pages or websites. Instead, summarize what’s important to your audience and link to the original source.
- Get to know the WashU Style Manual, which provides editing standards for university communications.
- Proofreed! Ask your colleagues to profread! Proofread again!
- Treat similar kinds of information the same way throughout your site. Consistency helps build trust with your site’s visitors.
- When separating content onto different pages, find the right balance. Long pages can be overwhelming, but many separate pages can require lots of clicking or cause visitors to miss important information. Consider how your visitors will use the information and organize for their needs.
- Use subheadings that divide content into scannable sections. Headings act as signposts for your readers, including people using screen readers. (See our tips for creating subheadings.)
- Break up long paragraphs. It’s common — and perfectly acceptable — for paragraphs on the web to be one sentence long.
- Use bullet points or numbered lists to present parallel types of information, but avoid creating long lists. Seven bullets maximum is a good rule of thumb.
- On longer pages, use accordions or anchor links (links within a page) to help visitors preview the scope of information that the page contains.
Taking it to the next level
- Boost visual appeal with quality photos and graphics, especially images that inform, clarify or add an emotional dimension to your content. Remember to caption and credit images!
- Use your site on a phone or other mobile device. Menus aren’t as easy to find, so additional links might be needed. Information that appears prominent on a larger screen might move down or lose impact. Keep your mobile visitors in mind, and revise accordingly.
- Update your site regularly. Develop an editorial schedule, assign responsibilities, and add them to everyone’s work calendars as recurring events.
If you have time for nothing else, remember this…
- Prioritize your audience’s needs, even if it means extra work for you!