eBusiness and Search News
Nine Things We Thought You Knew About Web Writing
Hey you. Yes, you. You know who you are. We thought you had taken care of these web writing "demons." But it turns out you need a little reminder.
So, here are nine things we thought you knew about web writing.
1. (Almost) No One Cares About Your Mission Statement
Visitors care deeply about what your company can do and what you believe in. But they rarely care about the 33-word mission statement your staff spent an entire weekend retreat arguing about:
"Our mission as a company is to value each and every client, as well as treat them with respect and dignity, while providing a world class solution that meets or exceeds client expectations."
So spare your readers a bland, clichéd mission statement. Instead devote your efforts to making your About Us pages clear and specific.
2. PDFs: Easy For You, Hard On Visitors
Yes, we know it's easy to just slap up a PDF at your site, but that's not the same as repurposing print for the web. While PDFs are fine if the content will always be printed and read as hard copy, here are five reasons to avoid PDFs for online reading:
They're slow to load and clumsy to scroll through.
They're rarely hyperlinked to related content at the site.
The page numbers get messed up. What the document's table of contents tells you will be on page 5 will probably be on page 7 or 8.
Reading in Adobe's browser within your web browser is irritating.
Because the PDF content was developed for print, the graphics and text layout don't work well online.
For a classic problem-PDF example, see the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland's "Having Problems With Your Lawyer?" brochure. In this PDF, readers are presented with brochure panels #4 and #1, followed by panels #2 and #3. Talk about having problems!
3. "Click Here" Is Lame Link Language
Back in the day, some people argued novice users wouldn't know what to do unless a link said "click here." Well, that's ancient history-the web equivalent of telling airline passengers how to fasten their seat belts. "Click here" is lame because it doesn't help users find information as they scan, and it doesn't tell the users where the link is leading them-and what they'll find when they get there.
TDS Telecom needs to end the "click here" abuse: "Click here to learn more about TDS ePay or to pay your bill on-line" and "Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions."
4. Proofread: It Shows You Care
What do these three web headings have in common?
Hurricane Katrina Evacuees Continue to Recieve Aid from ADRA
Ten States Recieve Grants for College Readiness Programs
N.C. Zoo Keepers Recieve Conservation Award
That's right; someone forgot to run spell check. We realize that usage, grammar, and spelling errors happen. But errors make even good content look bad. You want your content to grab your reader instead of your reader grabbing her red pen.
5. Don't Go On, And On, And On, And On
Content should be concise. One well-chosen word instead of three. To demonstrate, we've transformed this wordy passage from the Future of Family Medicine site:
Original 80-word version: "In the increasingly fragmented world of health care, one thing remains constant: Family physicians are dedicated to treating the whole person. Family medicine's cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focusing on integrated care. Unlike other specialties that are limited to a particular organ, disease, age or sex, family medicine integrates care for patients of both genders across the full spectrum of ages within the context of community and advocates for the patient in an increasingly complex health care system."
Our 35-word rewrite: "Family physicians treat the whole person. Family medicine's cornerstone is a personal patient-physician relationship; the focus is on integrated care. Unlike other specialties, family medicine cares and advocates for patients regardless of gender or age."
6. Text Shouldn't Move
If you've written web content, you probably expect (or hope) your visitors will read it. Words are easier to read when they stay still, so use none of the following text effects:
Rolling, like the For Your Information content at http://www.goprincegeorgescounty.com
Disappearing, like the Announcements at http://www.txwd.uscourts.gov
Scrolling, in the banner at the top of the page at http://www.kootenay.org/
7. Fight The Fluff
When we read content like this:
"Booz Allen has a long history helping companies in a wide range of industries across the globe build competitive advantage through innovation. We combine strategic thinking with functional expertise, and analytical insights with sustainable implementation to provide comprehensive innovation and new product development services, including: strategy and operations; product/service and process innovation; and support throughout the entire process, from ideation and launch to culture and tools, improving revenue and cost across the extended enterprise."
We think: Huh?
Fluff is annoying in print and fatal online because most web visitors are scanning, not reading at all. Visitors who scan this text won't glean anything. It requires too much mental energy to translate fluff into fact. If you ever find yourself writing a passage like Booz Allen's, take a break, get a grip, and replace the buzzwords with concrete language. Or, at the very least, link abstractions like implementation and innovation to case studies rich in specifics.
8. Bad Page Design Kills Readability
Page design must support your written content. At the Red Cross's Community Services page, the bad page design is fighting the content. (And the bad design is winning). The text wraps around the top, right, and bottom of the Community Services medallion. It's nearly impossible to recognize that the content is a list of community services. To improve page design, move the medallion and bullet the list of services. At a minimum, take the page design oath: First, do no harm to your written content.
9. Readers Hate Walls Of Words
Web readers rely on headings. If they can't scan your content before actually reading it, they probably won't read it at all. No doubt, readers crashed into the wall of 944 words (no headings) at the University of Washington's Pine Project History page. These web writers ignored three clear signs their content needed headings:
It's longer than one screen.
Each paragraph covers a different topic.
Most readers will want to read some of the paragraphs, not all. Headings help them find the paragraphs they want to read.
So, now you know the nine things we thought you already knew about web writing. Is web writing as simple as following these principles? Not quite. As Groucho Marx said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them.well, I have others." So stay tuned. We have others!
Our Daily Email of Breaking eBusiness News
About the Author:
E-WRITE teaches people the new rules for writing in the electronic age. We develop and teach writing courses, write web content, and translate print to online writing.
WebProNews RSS Feed
More Expert Articles Articles
|WebProNews is the number
one source for eBusiness News. Over 5 million eBusiness professionals read
WebProNews and other iEntry business and tech publications.
WebProNews provides real-time coverage of internet
Free Email Newsletters: