Writing and style

  • Web pages need to be findable (searchable and navigable), readable and understandable.
  • When writing for the web we must take into account our target audiences' needs and the ways they use the web, as well as the specific characteristics of the web as a medium.
  • The web is different from print communication in some very important ways, so content must be written to make the most of the opportunities it offers for communicating with and relating to your readers.
  • People are less tolerant of large tracts of text on the web. They mostly want to pick up the information they need quickly at a glance. So content needs to engage them immediately and speak to them in the words they are looking for.

How do people read on the web?

Whilst reading creative writing for pleasure is not unknown on the web, much web reading is for functional purposes, particularly on a large corporate site such as ours. People rarely venture onto the World Wide Web to browse aimlessly and leave to chance what they will encounter. They may ‘browse’ but with a definite purpose in mind: to gather information, answer a question or help achieve a task.

Something about the online experience also makes people far less patient than they might be when leafing through a book. The web is presented to them one page at a time and they need to navigate from page to page using cues on each page until they find something that looks promising. They have no sense of how much information or how many pages there are on a whole site, or indeed if they will find what they are seeking there. They are unlikely to stay for long if they can’t find what they want in the first two or three pages they view.

It’s up to the writer to provide the kind of content that will be relevant, trustworthy, easy to understand and appealing, and that delivers information clearly and quickly.

Skimming and scanning

Website users tend to skim and scan on the web. They want to read only what they need to satisfy their main purpose in visiting your site. They’ll scan around a page picking out key words, sentences, headings, links and paragraphs of interest, and skim over text that doesn’t interest them. They don’t start reading word-for-word until they find something relevant to them.

Writing and style guidelines

We have compiled some guidelines here for you on writing effective content for the web. We also include the University house style to help with consistency across our sites.

Contact us

If you have any queries about writing web content, please contact Sarah Williams, Web Marketing and Editorial Officer, who will be happy to help you.