Writing for the web

Why is writing for the web important?

We tend to scan text on a web page - we don't read every word: reading from a computer screen is about 25% slower than reading from paper.

The guidelines below will help you write suitable web copy.

GOV.UK web writing guidelines

GOV.UK are world leaders in content design. Key guidance: "Do not publish everything you can online. Publish only what someone needs to know so they can complete their task. Nothing more."

GOV.UK - Writing for the web

A web page can be a disorientating place - provide context

Users may arrive at your page from multiple starting points:

  • A direct link in an email
  • A search result
  • Browsing the navigation
  • A link from another page on the site

Consider this when writing page titles, and make them specific.

Write what your users need to know - not what you want to say

User stories

To make sure your content is user-focused, start by creating user stories.

The basic format of a user story:

As a ________, I would like ________ so I can ________.

User story format As a [who is the user?]
I would like [what does the user need/want/expect to do?]
So I can [why does the user want or need to do this? what is their end goal?]
User story example As a [new member of staff]
I would like [to register my car]
So I can [claim my expenses and get reimbursed]

Teasing out the user stories

  • Who is this page for? Is the user in the right place? 
    The target audience of your page must be clear. For those not in the intended audience, is there another page you can direct them to?  Also consider if different user groups need to perform different actions (e.g. clinical, non clinical, agency staff, permanent staff) 
  • What will this page allow them to do?
    The key points of your page should be covered in the title and first paragraph. Think about the trigger for a user visiting the page. What would have sent them here? Make sure the user has all the information they need to complete their task
  • What is the user's end goal?
    In the example above the user doesn’t ultimately care about registering their car – they just want to get paid the money they are owed.  This should be the focus of the page. If you are struggling to the define the goal – ask yourself if the content is actually needed

Additional information to include on your page:

  • What should the user do if they need help?
    Provide easy access to contact details and/or help materials
  • What should the user do next?
    If this page is part of a process or wider journey, make sure your page links to related pages or documentation

Language and structure

Make it short

Make sentences short and easy to read. Instead of "it is strongly advised that you should always seek independent advice on these important matters," use "seek independent advice."

Use clear and simple language

  • Avoid slang or jargon
    Ask people outside of your organisation to read your text. Is it still understandable?
  • Spell out acronyms
    Be kind to your new starters! In the first instance of use on a page, always spell out an acronym in full
  • Use shorter words
    For example, use 'next to' instead of 'adjacent to'
  • Use active instead of passive words
    Use ‘the team won the award’ rather than ‘the award was won by the team’

Limit each paragraph to one idea

Assign one idea to each paragraph so visitors can easily scan a paragraph then move onto the next.

Front-load paragraphs

Front-loading means putting the conclusion first, followed by the what, how, where, when and why. 
This helps readers:

  • quickly scan through the opening sentence
  • instantly understand what the paragraph is about
  • decide if they want to read the rest of the paragraph or not 


Use descriptive subheadings

Break up paragraphs of text with descriptive subheadings. This allows users to easily scan the page to find what they're looking for.  Using subheadings will also force you to group the content logically. If you can't think of a clear, instructive subheading, the text may not actually be relevant to your users.

Important words in bold, not underlined

Use bold to highlight important words.

Don't underline words as it makes them look like links.

Use descriptive link text

Link text stands out on screen and helps users scan for keywords. Avoid "click here" or "learn more". Phrases like this don't tell readers where the link will take them. You're forcing them to stop scanning and read around the link in order to get context.  

Find out more:

Use lists

Comparied to paragraphs, bulleted and numbered lists are usually:

  • easier to scan
  • less intimidating
  • shorter

Call to action

What should users do next? Always try to provide links to further information. This could be a form, additional guidance, contact names, or another related page on the site.

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