- If you write for the internet you must understand your online readers.
- The Apostle Paul serves as a role model for taking a user-driven approach (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
- We need to understand that people “consume” electronic information differently to paper media.
- Here at the Run to Me Foundation, we used Janice Redish’s Letting Go of the Words (2012) to help us grow in our understanding of how to write for the internet so we can be more in tune with our user’s needs and behaviors.
- We want to share the helpful things we learned with you, so below you will find what we took as her key message and key recommendations.
- Get a copy of Redish’s book on Amazon.
- The written content on your website must feel personal and interactive as if you are having a direct conversation with your users.
- Website visitors want to feel understood and served.
- Your users do not have a lot of time to engage with your website, so it’s your job to get them to the information they need quickly.
- Website visitors have a “grab and go” mentality and your approach to writing must be in sync with this mindset.
General recommendations are listed first, followed by more specific recommendations. We’ve also included page references from Redish’s book so you can get more detailed information on each point.
- Create consistent patterns across website content – the human mind likes patterns (pg 54).
- Use “bite, snack, meal” approach to webpage layout. “Bite” is the headline/brief description, “Snack” is the key message or brief summary, “Meal” is the full details (pg 134-6).
- Outline the “meal”/full webpage using headings, then write the content for each heading (pg 186).
- Use lists and tables whenever possible to help “scannability” of information (pg 6, 228).
- Illustrate content with a variety of picture types (pg 6).
- Using a “show/hide” function allows users to chose what information they want to see (pg 146).
- Pictures are primarily meant to evoke an emotional response, express a mood, engender good feelings. (pg 279).
- Don’t write and publish instantly. Write, review, sleep on it, review, get others to review (pg 290).
- Check links are working (pg 291).
- Check facts (pg 291).
- Don’t ask reviewers for their opinion on the content, ask them what the content said (pg 132).
Writing “Voice” and genders
- Write in 1st person to ensure conversational style (pg 198).
- Use “we” when writing on behalf of a group (pg 207).
- Use the imperative in instructions to keep conversation style e.g. “Contact us”, “Visit us” (pg 199).
- Use “you” so that you are maintaining gender-neutral writing (pg 203).
- Keep sentences short in length – about 10-20 words (pg 6, 212).
- Use the shortest way of saying something e.g. instead of “due to the fact” – say “because” (pg 214).
- Keep the verb close to the subject – i.e. don’t stuff sentences with secondary information (pg 216).
- Use plain language instead of formal longer words, e.g. “try” instead of “attempt”, “use” instead of utilize (pg 224).
- Keep paragraphs short in length, one sentence paragraphs are acceptable. This will make the page longer but it’s more appealing to read (pg 6,69).
- Headings are helpful for starting paragraphs (pg 70).
- Use lists as much as possible, to help scannability of information (pg 232).
- Keep lists short – 5 to 10 items (pg 251).
- Used numbered lists only when detailing instructions, never when listing options (pg 231, pg 237).
- Use bullet points for non-instructional lists (pg 251).
- Do not use a space between list items that are only 1 line long BUT do use a space between list items that are several lines long (pg 240).
- Pictures are primarily meant to evoke an emotional response, express a mood, engender good feelings (Redish pg 279).
- Don’t choose pictures that make people wonder what or why – make sure they reinforce your message (Redish pg 280).
- Don’t let photos take up too much of valuable webpage space (pg 280).
- Don’t choose photos that look like an ad (pg 280).
- Use photos to show diversity (pg 280).
- Use lots of headings! They allow for users to scan to get the gist of your overall message (pg 70, 165).
- Make sure headings are clear, helpful, containing key messages/declarative (containing a conclusion). This will also help SEO (pg 6, 136, 137, 166).
- Keep question headings short (pg 175).
- Have headings appear in bold or a specific color (pg 65).
- Do not use a period at the end of headings or an exclamation point (pg 171).
- End question headings with a question mark (pg 171).
- Put more active space above the heading than between the heading and text itself (pg 58).
- No underlining of text, except for links. Underlining is old-fashioned (pg.65).
- Don’t write whole sentences and paragraphs in capital letters, it is off-putting to the eye (pg 64).
- Use italics sparingly, and not for headings (pg 65).
- Don’t center text – use left aligned, ragged right instead (pg 59).
Web page headlines
- Headlines (<H1>) should include keywords that your site visitors will search for (pg 158).
- Keep headlines clear not “cute” (pg 158)
- Keep headlines to a medium length approx. 8 words (pg 158).
- Include meaningful links to other parts of your site, this moves the “conversation” ahead with your users (pg 6, 108).
- Put links to other parts of the page at the top of your webpage, save links to other areas of your website for at the end of the page (pg 184).
- Don’t embed links – “it’s like switching conversation topics mid-sentence” (pg 265).
- Keep the links color for links only, otherwise, it will confuse users (pg 268).
- Change the color of visited links so as not to confuse users (pg 268).
Contact us if you found our guide useful or if you’re an internet-writer and have other tips you can share with us. Thank you!