Writing to be read on the web PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 July 2010 13:42

Not so easy as it sounds

Good writing transverses between great ideas and conformity to the audience and medium it is meant for. Writing for the web can be as easy as you think but writing to be read is quite a challenge. The challenges here are manifold; this genre of writing should facilitate readers to understand initial messages in seconds, to move on with their intellectual curiosity fluidly, and should be guided by vivid pathways to the next choices.

In short, the web reader can be compared to a traveler, who enjoys efficient motion, regular nourishment, comfort stations, and the challenge of the new. To conform to the writing style this genre calls for, let's first understand the reading patterns of users on the web.

Do users read on the web? No, they skim, and scan

People seldom read Web pages word by word; rather, they scan the page , picking out individual words and sentences. It has been found in a survey that 79% of users scan the page instead of reading word-for-word. Users in their most encounters with a website commonly first navigate to the page they need. They do this by scanning and selecting — or searching — seldom by reading more than a few words.

That's not all. Even on content pages, users tend to skim, scan, and select. The reason: simply because having to read a lot is an obstacle to finding a particular piece of information. Research has already shown that reading from the web is about 25% slower than reading from paper. This is commonplace that many people find reading from the screen for extended periods to be difficult and tiring.

Users have been found to detest the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that is presently prevalent on the Web. Web users are damn busy: they want to get the facts straightaway. Also, credibility seems to suffer when users clearly see that the site exaggerates and overcommits.

Adapting the writing to the web: Adopting a style for optimal advantage

The heart of a website is the content. Users visit a website because they want the content — the information. Even in an e-commerce website, users are looking for information that would be helpful in their purchase making decision.

Here are a few suggestions on how to take mileage out a writing style that is simply web-friendly.

Write succinctly

Reading from computer screens is about 25% slower as compared to reading from paper. Even readers who don't know this human factors research usually say that they feel not well when reading online text. As a result, people don't wish to read a lot of text from computer screens: you ought to write 50% less text and not just 25% less because it's not only a matter of reading speed but also a matter of feeling good.

Select only what your audience need

The right content is the information that users look for. You can find out what users want and need by collecting data from them and by doing usability testing with them.

Before putting any content on the web, do a reality check:

  • Is the content relevant to users of the website (not just to you)?
  • Do users really want or need the information which is going to be put?

Organize content logically and coherently for your audiences

You can accomplish this by following these ensuing points.

  • Chunk the text into manageable pieces
  • Put in many headings
  • Use the headings as introductory hyperlinks
  • If the information is sequential, put it in that order
  • For non-sequential info, put what users need most first
  • Write content visually
  • Use the users' words
  • Avoid jargon
  • Give examples
  • Meet users' expectations for the way information is displayed
  • Use icons or small pictures to enhance the words

Write for scanability

Because it is not pleasant to read text on computer screens and because the online experience seems to foster some amount of impatience, users do not continue to read streams of text fully. Rather, users scan text and pick out keywords, sentences, and paragraphs of interest they care more about.

  • Structure your articles with two or even three levels of headlines (a general page heading plus subheads - and sub-sub-heads when appropriate).
  • Write meaningful rather than "cute" headings (reading a heading should convey to the user what the page or section is all about)
  • Use highlighting and emphasis to make important words catch the user's attention. Colored text can also be used for emphasis, and hypertext anchors stand out by virtue of being blue and underlined

Go for facilitating hypertext structure

Make text short but not affecting the depth of content by splitting the information up into multiple nodes connected by hypertext links. Simply put, the hypertext structure should be based on an audience analysis . Split the information into coherent chunks that each focus on a certain topic to allow readers to select those topics they come looking for.

So, shaping words for the web in conformity with web's opportunities and limitations is to be learnt with care and conviction. Only then, your writings will begin to be read to your best advantage.

Last Updated ( Friday, 26 November 2010 10:01 )

Your are currently browsing this site with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Your current web browser must be updated to version 7 of Internet Explorer (IE7) to take advantage of all of template's capabilities.

Why should I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7? Microsoft has redesigned Internet Explorer from the ground up, with better security, new capabilities, and a whole new interface. Many changes resulted from the feedback of millions of users who tested prerelease versions of the new browser. The most compelling reason to upgrade is the improved security. The Internet of today is not the Internet of five years ago. There are dangers that simply didn't exist back in 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was released to the world. Internet Explorer 7 makes surfing the web fundamentally safer by offering greater protection against viruses, spyware, and other online risks.

Get free downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.