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Writing for the web tips

Include sub-headings in web page content

Sub-headings make the text more scannable.

Your readers will move to the section of the document that is most useful for them, and sub-headings make it easier for them to do this.

  

Less is more!

Include only what users want and need.

How?

  • Cut! Cut! Cut! Find the essence.
  • Put it away for a day or two. Look it over and cut again.
  • With each sentence, ask: Do users want or need that?
  • Then ask: Do they really want or need that?

  

Use action words whenever possible

Avoid the passive voice.

Write what you would say to them if you were talking on the phone.

For example, instead of:
An acknowledgement of the order will be issued via an e-mail message when payment is completed.

Use:
You will receive an email from us confirming your order.

  

Write links that work

Please remember not  to use "click here" for your links.

"Click here" says nothing – it doesn't reach out and grab your readers and make them want  to click on the link.

According to the W3C Quality Assurance Team, links should:

  • be brief and meaningful
  • provide information even when read out of context
  • explain what the link offers
  • not deal with the mechanics of the site
  • not be a verb phrase

  

Make your links part of the text

Links are another way web readers scan pages.

They stand out from normal text, and provide more cues as to what the page is about.

Make sure that the text for your links indicates where the links will lead your website visitors.

  

Link to original sources

Don’t post another site’s content on your site – link to the original source instead.

Why? 

  • If the content on the other site changes your content will be out of date
  • if a site visitor has questions about the content they will contact you not realizing that it isn’t your content.

  

Proofread your work

Typos and spelling errors may send people away from your pages.

Make sure you carefully proofread everything you post to the web.  As a final check, read it out loud - good writing flows.
 

Make it concise

During the editing process, ask yourself, “How can I say the same thing in fewer words?”

People don’t have time to read a long block of text. Out of respect for your intended audience, practice making your writing short and sweet.

  

Write short sentences

Sentences should be as concise as you can make them.

Use only the words you need to get the essential information across.

  

Avoid abbreviations and jargon

Make sure you don’t use words, expressions, or abbreviations that visitors won’t understand.

Spell things out as often as you need to – and don’t worry about repetition.

Define abbreviations at the top of every web page where the abbreviation is used – website visitors could land directly on any web page via search.

  

Put conclusions at the beginning

Think of an inverted pyramid when you write.

Get to the point in the first paragraph, then expand upon it.

Use simple words

Even highly educated people read simpler words faster.
 

Instead of this:

Try this:

obtain

get

prior to

before

purchase

buy

request

ask for

subsequent

next

terminate

end

utilize

use

  

Go back and edit your work

Edit before you publish. Edit after you see it online. Edit again next week.

Keep asking yourself:

  • Is this clear?
  • Is there a simpler way to say this?
  • Is there a shorter way to say this?
  • Is this even necessary?

  

Write only one idea per paragraph

Web pages need to be concise and to-the-point.

People don't read web pages, they scan them, so having short, meaty paragraphs is better than long rambling ones.

  

Use lists instead of paragraphs

Lists are easier to scan than paragraphs, especially if you keep them short.

Quick tips

Characters per line

Line lengths should be neither too short (<50 characters per line) nor too long (>100 characters per line) when viewed in a standard browser width window.


Navigation

All corporate information should be grouped in one distinct area (e.g. "About ____").

Navigation labels should contain the "trigger words" that users will look for to achieve their goal.

There should be no more than 7-9 navigation items per menu/sub menu.

There should be no more than three levels of navigation in the main navigation.

There should be no external links in the main navigation (this includes other University of Waterloo sites that are not the website the user is currently on).


Trust and credibility

The content is up-to-date, authoritative and trustworthy.

It is easy to contact someone for assistance and a reply is received quickly.

The site is free of typographic errors and spelling mistakes.