Writing for the web
This Web Skills module will give you tips for writing for the web in a user focused way.
Users on the web interact differently with a website than they do with the printed word, so approach writing for the web with this in mind. Readers could arrive at your page with little context, by using a search engine. They need to know within a few seconds whether the page they have landed on is what they were looking for and if it will be useful to them.
Dates for the next sessions are:
- Monday 20 March (10:00-13:00)
- Tuesday 2 May (10:00-13:00)
- Wednesday 24 May (10:00-13:00)
- Thursday 22 June (10:00-13:00)
To book a place on a session, email News and Digital Content Editor Andrew Youngson
Let's get started
Consider your reader
- Why are users coming to your site?
- What tasks are they trying to complete on your site?
- Which pages are likely to be the most important for them?
- How will users find your page?
- If you don’t know – ask some of your users. Understanding this will help you structure your site in a logical, user friendly way.
- Use Google Anayltics to help you find ut who your audience are.
Know how people read websites
- People skim, scan and select when reading websites.
- Users rarely read the entire page content from top to bottom before selecting where to go next – they commonly hunt around and click on the first link that could possibly apply to their task.
Create 'information scent'
- Think about trigger words – what words are likely to be in a user’s mind if they are completing a particular task? These may not be the words that an insider uses (jargon).
- Make every link on your page a clear signpost to the content that lies beyond it. Find out more about writing links from web experts Nielsen Norman Group.
- Trigger words need to be easily understandable.
- When users click on trigger words, they expect to see those words on the next page.
- Users only search when they can’t find their trigger words – so use search logs to find the trigger words.
Layer the information
- Readers rarely read whole passages of prose online, unless their goal is to get extended information.
- Layer the details - put brief summaries at a high level on your site, linking to detail at a deeper level. Users will keep clicking through for more details if the trail is clear.
- Ensure summaries contain the key trigger words and links that users are likely to be looking for.
Use action words, and not just labels when writing links
- A call to action can provide a strong scent for users looking to complete a common task e.g. Order your copy of our MSc brochure or Listen to our podcast.
- Call to action buttons are a great way to ensure people do something.
Break out of the Imperial mindset
- Avoid “College-speak”. Watch out for internal language and acronyms. Whilst your pages may be aimed at an internal audience, bear in mind that other users may be visiting your pages.
- Use the words that users will know and recognise.
Less is more!
- The web is a brutal place and attention spans are brief. So make your sentences short. Find the essence of what you need to say, and cut everything else.
- Keep sentences to one or two points and get key points across first.
- Don’t write in long paragraphs – about 50 words per paragraph. A one sentence paragraph is OK.
- Get a colleague to check what you have written to ensure it makes sense – and ask them to cut anything that is not vital.
Don’t just post and forget about it
- Keep checking that your site content is up to date – be an active manager of your pages.
- Ask for feedback from users so the site is continually refreshed and still meeting the needs of your audience.
- The way that material is presented on a web page has an impact on readability.
- Use sub headings to support scanning. Web users read in short chunks, getting enough info to make a choice, move on or take an action.
- Meet user expectations in visual formatting – set out opening hours, contact details etc in a logical way as you would expect to find them.
- Use lists to break up content:
- Bulleted lists for items or choices.
- Numbered lists for instructions and processes.
Useful links to help with developing your website:
College house writing style guidelines – good practice writing style information and clarification of common spelling and grammatical issues
Online image library – access to thousands of photographs of Imperial people, facilities and environment
College Web Guide – a guide and toolkit for website owners