Man typing on a laptop 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.

**Please note, this course will be delivered remotely via Microsoft Teams for the foreseeable future. As such, the format of the training may differ somewhat from the in-person version**

Dates for sessions in 2020 are:

  • Monday 20 July 2020 (13:00-16:00)
  • Thursday 20 August 2020 (10:00-13:00)
  • Wednesday 23 September 2020 (10:00-13:00)
  • Thursday 22 October 2020 (13:00-16:00)
  • Thursday 19 November 2020 (13:00-16:00)
  • Thursday 3 December 2020 (13:00-16:00)

To book a place on a session, email News and Campaigns Content Manager Andrew Youngson

Please note: This workshop is only open to Imperial College London staff members.

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.

Write visually

  • 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.
    1. 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