Writing for the web

What makes effective web writing?

Effective content on the web is:

  • necessary and helpful: make sure your web content serves a clear and useful purpose, know who it is for and what you want to achieve with it;
  • appropriate for its audience: focus on the user and their needs and answer people’s questions to satisfy their need for information quickly and easily; use their language and the words they will be looking for and will understand; and try to see things from their point of view;
  • concise: you will probably only need 50% of the equivalent content you might write for printed publications; only write as much text as is really necessary, keep paragraphs short, stay focused and relevant and break content up so it is digestible;
  • simple and direct: stick to the point, providing only what’s relevant; keep it free from technical language and internal jargon, and make sure it can be understood by all your targeted users;
  • consistent: use consistent vocabulary, a consistent tone and style and follow house style rules;
  • error-free: people need to have confidence in your information, but mistakes in spelling, typing and grammar can undermine this, so do proofread your text before approving it for publication on the website - Site Manager also has a spellchecker to help with this task;
  • appropriate in style and tone of voice: it should be a conversation between you and the reader, and it should be credible;
  • written to meet its purpose: establish a clear objective for each page’s content and ensure your text meets this;
  • organised using appropriate headings: make headings short and direct, and use subheadings with a logical heading structure;
  • written to capture interest: get to the point straightaway by putting your key messages at the top of the page with your key words and phrases in the first two paragraphs;
  • able to back up with evidence any claims it makes: provide evidence to demonstrate the truth of what you claim, rather than just making bold statements;
  • composed using the words your users are looking for: so search engine robots will index them and your target users will find them.

Writing for the web: online course

An online course ‘Effective Writing for the Web’ is available on the Exeter Learning Environment (also available through the staff portal).

The course consists of 12 chapters covering in more detail the points outlined on this page. It also has some useful resources from a training session run for Academic Services staff in 2009.