Web writing is not quite like writing for any other medium. For starters, the average web user has an attention span of 5 seconds. You have that much time to catch their attention. It sounds intimidating, but really all readers just want to be spoken to like a real person. Here are a few things to keep in mind when writing for your website.
- Write like you speak: Keep it conversational. Use pronouns (you, we, they). Use contractions (don’t, you’ll, it’s). Read your copy out loud or to colleague. If it sounds too formal, think of how you’d describe it to a student in person.
- Use active voice: Use active instead of passive voice (Active: “Our students love our program” Passive: “Our program is loved by students”). Active voice makes sentences shorter, simpler and more engaging to read.
- Use plain English: Write short sentences. Replace long formal words with short ones (e.g. “buy” instead of “purchase”). Plain language is for everyone, but it is especially important for those with disabilities or non-native English speakers.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms: Stay away from jargon as much as possible and don’t overuse acronyms. Formal academic terms and organizational acronyms can be hard to avoid but do your best.
- Aim for a high school reading level: Our audience is intelligent, but no one thinks like a research paper all the time. Many web users are in a rush. Even PhDs can’t read at their highest comprehension in a hurry. Try using a readability tester.
- Write scannable content: You may have heard of the inverted pyramid or writing from most to least important. In web, we use the F pattern. Assume the user will not read every sentence. Limit one idea per paragraph. Use bullet points, catchy headings, and lots of links. These are more likely to catch the eye.