There is a difference between how we communicate in a printed context and the online experience. They are different mediums with very different ways of communicating information.
We need to make sure information is easily and quickly accessible to everyone. The web has a huge range of users with a lot of different needs so we need to consider that when we write, structure and organise content for the web.
A website should be easy to use, intuitive and allow people to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. If a user spends more than a few seconds trying to find what they are looking for, chances are they will leave before they get there.
It's easy to forget about who uses a website - not everyone will find things in the same way. You have to think about every potential user.
Don't make the user spend ages trying to find out what they want to know. If they are looking for a service you provide, make it as straightforward and as clear as possible in your content.
Organise your text in a way the user can pick up essential points at a glance. Break up the text with short paragraphs, use bullet points for lists and make use of descriptive headings and links.
Images should not distract the user from the content on your page, they must only be used to enhance your written content.
Some visually-impaired users may use assistive technology to read text on web page. Text in an image can't be read, so either avoid doing this or make sure an explanation of the image is included in the alt text or in the body of your text.
When we read online we use a mixture of skimming and scanning skills to find the information we're looking for.
Typically, to read online content we will:
Users start in the top left-hand corner of the text and then scan horizontally and vertically in an F shape to read the content.
To help us skim read we rely on differences in word shapes to read the text. Capital letters make reading online slower and should be avoided where possible, this is also Essex house style. Short paragraph and sentence length is important to a web user as it helps them skim read a piece of text online.
Scanning is another skill that we use when reading a web page. It differs from skimming in that you do not deal with all of the content. Users will be:
We use a mixture of skimming and scanning to read content online.
Traditionally, printed text starts at the beginning and finishes at the end, such as a book or an essay. There is a logical sequence to writing and the reader is led by the author through the material. This style of linear writing doesn't work online as the way we read online is very different.
On websites we generate our own experience by scanning pages, headings, bullets, paragraphs and links to find the information we are looking for, we don't read word for word.
Web content is organised differently in a non-linear style, this is also known as the 'inverted pyramid style': the main points, explanation, details.
Starting with the main points gives the reader the most important information first, then some further explanation about the content and finally any non-essential details. This means that even if you don't read everything on the page, you will at least have gained the key information.
When writing for the web, it's important not to make users work hard to find what they're looking for. Effective web content is short, concise and well-structured - remember that the majority of people who read a web page only absorb three quarters of the content, at the most.
FAQs are a popular way of providing information. They're easy for content writers to produce as they're often simply a list of everything that users might need to know.
Unfortunately, that approach is bad for users for a number of reasons:
Instead content needs to be based on what your users need to know. It needs to be well structured under a series of short headings (and sub-headings if needed).
Well-written and organised content addresses the needs of your audience by providing them with the information they want, in a format they wish to see it. It also creates a vital good first impression on your visitors. To do this involves knowing and understanding your audience and what type of information they're looking for.
Think about who specifically you're trying to reach. You may say - students. But which students do you mean? Prospective students? International students? Returning current students? Students at the Southend Campus? Knowing who you are writing for will help keep your content focused and to the point.
Know why the reader has come to your page and what they will want to do there. Provide the information the reader is looking for and do not be tempted to write more than is necessary, your reader is unlikely to read it and it will get in their way.
Consider in detail what you want to tell users and how you can relate to them in a way that will interest and engage them.
Strong, compelling content:
Organise your content carefully so that readers can find what they're looking for quickly and easily, by using:
put the most important information
clear, descriptive headings
It's important to stress that shorter, concise content generally works much more effectively. Remember, your users will want to get to what they need quickly. They won't read your content, they will scan. As a rule of thumb, only write one idea per paragraph and keep sentences short.
Signposting users to where they want to go is a crucial part of providing the user with the best possible experience on your site. Headings on a web page give us a sense of direction. By using descriptive headings, search engines will find your pages and visitors will find your content much more quickly.
Descriptive headings help users find specific content and orient themselves within the web page. Your headings must accurately describe what is in the paragraph that follows. This helps users locate the specific content they need, and is especially helpful when browsers or assistive technology allow navigation from heading to heading.
Being descriptive about headings also applies to links. The trouble with links such as 'click here' is that they don't tell you exactly what that link will lead to and they don't provide information for users scanning the links on the page to help them understand the page's content.
Search engines also find it difficult to crawl through pages with non-descriptive links, which severely limits your page or site's visibility in search results. In terms of accessibility, screen reader users often navigate websites going from link to link using the tab key. For this reason, providing links that make sense is vitally important and necessary.
You must also avoid having 'naked' links (eg. ‘..visit http://www.essex.ac.uk/this-page.aspx to find out more’). All hyperlinks must be embedded in the body text.
Bringing our University's brand to life through the language we use in our writing is just as important as our visual identity. In order to communicate our messages with one voice, in a clear and consistent way that truly reflects who we are, there are some key principles to bear in mind.
Based on an original LinkedIn Learning course, our Writing for Web at Essex playlist provides guidance on how you can write effective web content and improve our website users' experience.
All staff and students are welcome to access this course.
LinkedIn Learning will ask you to activate your LinkedIn Learning account. You’ll be asked whether you wish to link to your personal LinkedIn account, if you have one. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to – just select ‘Continue without connecting to my LinkedIn account’.
You’ll then see some introductory pages designed to show you what’s available in LinkedIn Learning. If you select the ‘Home’ tab at the top of the page, you’ll see the ‘Writing for web at Essex’ learning path where you can start the course.
Log into LinkedIn Learning and you’ll see the Writing for Web at Essex learning path. Just select ‘Start Learning Path’ to begin.
In order to maintain quality and consistency across the website, we regulate the number of people who edit the website. If you think you need to have access to edit the website and would like to receive web author training, please contact email@example.com.