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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.

A web page can be a disorientating place to visit - always 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

Regardless of how they arrive, users need context.

When writing your page make sure these questions are answered:

  • 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?
  • 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 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.  

Read more about why writing good link text is important.

Use lists

Bulleted and numbered lists are:

  • easier to scan than paragraphs
  • less intimidating
  • usually more succinct

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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