Writing for the Web

  • Use short paragraphs. Large blocks of text can look like walls, and act as such to the user. Research has shown that short, concise paragraphs and bulleted lists work best for web use.
  • Your first paragraph is the most important one. As such, it should be brief, clear, and to the point in order to quickly engage the user. One-sentence paragraphs are encouraged.
  • Write in an inverted pyramid style. Place the most important information at the top, extra info toward the bottom.
  • Use subheadings. Subheadings can clarify the subject of various sections on a page. Users want to skim and scan for information. Headings help this process exponentially.
  • Don't waste space welcoming people to the page. There is no need, and most users ignore any welcome text as filler. Get to the meat—that is what they came for.
  • Just when you think you are done, look again. Cut, cut, and cut your text until it is the most essential message.
  • Name your page clearly. The page title and the navigation title should match as closely as possible. They should also clearly articulate the subject of the page. Do not use “Welcome to Communications!” Instead, say “Communications Office.”
  • Do not tell users to “use the links on the left.” Put the information or links you are referring to right there instead.
  • Use bold sparingly. Bold should be used for headings and then sparingly for any other emphasis. Too much bold makes text harder, not easier, to read and differentiate.
  • Italics should also be used sparingly. Italics on the web are also hard to read. Try to avoid making long paragraphs italic—you are making the text harder to read, not giving it emphasis. Exceptions include book titles scientific names.
  • Do not underline text. On the web underline = link. Giving a sentence an underline for emphasis is misleading. And again, you don't really need it.
  • Use all caps very sparingly. Research shows all caps are harder to read than mixed case.
  • Don't try to emphasize too much. If you use bolded headings, short paragraphs, and bulleted lists, you should not need to rely on italics, all caps, or underlining for emphasis. These styles can make the page look messy and compete for the user's attention.
  • Avoid exclamation points. We know Rutgers is awesome! We love it! But exclamation points on websites make can make it look unprofessional! Let the content speak for itself.

Adapted from Web Writing Style Guide, Hampshire College.