Writing for the web
This Web Skills self-study 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.
This self-study module offers insights into best practices for writing online, whether for a website, e-newsletter, social media or news articles.
To access the module, email News and Campaigns Content Manager Andrew Youngson.
You will be provided with the link to the self-study module, and you will be given the chance to attend a drop-in clinic where you can discuss any questions about the information in this module, or should you want to talk about the content of this module within the context of your own work.
Please note: This module is only open to Imperial College London staff members.
Can't wait? Here are some best practice principles for writing online
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