Web Word Wizardry - Business Communication Network
Transcript Web Word Wizardry - Business Communication Network
A Guide to Writing for the Web
Mike Hopkins and Chris Madison
Reading on the Web
Writing Web Content
Note: Writing for the web is about so much more than the
How do Users Read on the Web?
Jakob Nielson, Alertbox for October 1, 1997
(data validated again in 2006)
Most web readers scan pages
Pick out relevant words and sentences
79% always scan a new page
16% or less read every word
How Do Users Read on the Web?
Web a visual medium
Construct meaning from
links and bold or emphasized text
Print longer text to read offline
Users’ State of Mind
User driven medium and users want to feel they are
active on the web at all times and get tasks done
Users are in an engaged and action-oriented state of
Constantly deciding whether to jump to anther part of
the page, site, web, etc.
3-10 seconds to get their attention and keep it before they hit the
back button or another link (perhaps much less)
The back button is the most frequently used browser command.
Web medium and net culture encourages behavior
with hyperlinks, etc.
Users Read Text Before Images
People tend to read text (3/4 of the time) before they
look at any images – exact opposite of what they do on
Think of how you scan a newspaper – we tend to read
the headlines and pictures first.
Go to briefs and captions first, then scan pictures.
Stanford and Poynter Institute study on reading online
Writing Web Content
Preparing to Write
Know your audience
Know your audience
Know your audience
Know Your Audience
You are not your audience
Take yourself out of the design process
Who are your audiences?
Write for the 80%
Write for primary and secondary audiences (if significant)
Do not write for the exception
Don’t even consider writing until you know who you
are writing for and how to engage them
Age and gender of target audience?
Occupation and hobbies?
Are they expert (professionals) or novice? (consumers) with your
Why are they coming to your site?
What do they want to do/find?
What is their reading level?
Level of comfort with browser, web, etc.?
Demographics are just “the facts” not the meat
What is your user’s worldview?
We employ many research methodologies; qualitative
user research, task analysis, etc.
For this class if you can, interview someone else
about your subject are; How do they think about the
subject of your site in their daily lives? What
perceptions or misconceptions do they have? What
information interests them? What questions do they
want to know about the subject? What tasks might
they want to do? What features might they want?
Web Writing Style: Inverted Pyramid
Build up to conclusion State conclusion first
through the points and
Summarize your main
points in the first
Provide detail or
supporting material at the
Writing Style: Inverted Pyramid
supporting details, links,
call to action
Islands of Content
Each page is an “island of content”
User can land on it from anywhere
Writing for 3D hyperspace
What is this page about?
Who is it for?
Expert, novice, type of user
Where is this page in relationship to the rest of the
What can they do?
What do you want them to do?
How to Write for the Web
“How to Write for the Web”
By John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen
Results show most usable writing style is:
Writing for Scanning: Use
HTML naturally designed for hierarchy and
users create meaning from the hierarchy
Topic title or heading
Sub-topic or sub-heading
Topic Sentences: Some viewers read ONLY the first
sentence in a chunk.
Bold words (italic is not easy to read on the web and
should generally be avoided)
Links (see below for developing a linking style)
Other forms of emphasized text (with visual
Structure Content: Concise
What is a chunk? Any idea that needs to be accessed
One idea per chunk.
Not more than 100 words.
Every word within a chunk is visible on the screen at one
Organize chunks into CLEAR hierarchies
A well constructed chunk provides the reader with all
of the information they need to know as well as links
to related or supporting pages.
Readers may or may not have read the page before the one
they are on and may not read the following page.
Be Concise and Objective
Remove extra “marketing” words when not
needed, avoid hyperbole
Promotional text adds to cognitive load as users
have to evaluate truth
Cut text by 50% from a (non-web) written version
1 page on the web = 1/2 page of print
Be Concise and Objective
The web is a personal medium. You are talking
directly to your users on a one-to-one basis. Engage
Capitalize on their action oriented engaged state of
Use action oriented voice, imperative statements such as
Order Now! Start Here!
Write for Scanning: Bulleted Lists
Bulleted lists are easy for users to scan
Most effective list is 3 – 5 items
If list is to long loses effectiveness
Break into logical subgroups or combine elements in the list
Write for Scanning: Tables
Tables can help organize information
Especially good when users need to compare options
or understand sequential order
Examples: Program Summaries
Compare All Programs
Optimize every part of the page
Headers and sub-heads
Catchy names don’t give users the information they need
Summaries and other micro content
Site Point Guidelines
Tibco Example (move and relink)
Links can mislead!
Users scan links to determine content
Don’t link users OUT of your content before you
want them to leave the page or your site
Users tend to click on the first link they see
Don’t link just because you can
SU school pages often mention Stanford
University in first paragraph and link to SU
Home. User clicks out of the site and never
Embedded Linking Style
This embedded link is surrounded by text.
Embedded link is followed by text.
This is not an embedded link
The additional descriptive text appears as a
Get Important Content
“Above the Fold”
Users are now more comfortable with scrolling
When in a hurry they don’t always do so –
Very audience dependent
Online shoppers may not scroll
Prospective students are highly motivated and
are more likely to scroll
Even experienced users often miss important
information if it is not “above the fold" or
amount of content that displays in their monitor
EXAMPLE of solution
Writing for Printing
All content is not appropriate for web writing style
If it is a document you intend the user to print and
Provide a brief summary of the document so that user knows
whether the document is relevant to them.
Sub-divide the info, add TOC, subheadings, links, anchors,
Assume the user will print the entire document to read it.
Make SURE the entire document prints with one print
command – never break up text that needs to be printed in
one document – process, job aids, research papers, etc.
Use Cascading Style Sheets to control print (removes
navigation and extra graphics)
Writing to be found – Search
Various types of search engines
Human Power Directories
Hybrid of both (getting more common)
Test content periodically with various search
engines - make sure the results are what you
Check Search Engine Watch regularly for
Best info now requires membership
Writing to be Found – Search
A few tips from Search Engine Watch
Search engines will also check to see if the search keywords
appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline
or in the first few paragraphs of text. They assume that any
page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from
Frequency is the other major factor in how search engines
determine relevancy. A search engine will analyze how often
keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page.
Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more
relevant than other web pages.
Go explore more! Search Engine Placement Tips and
Writing to be Found Accessibility
There is no usability without accessibility
Basic guidelines for accessibility can be found at:
WC3 Consortium http://www.w3.org/WAI/
Mike quick recap here
Writing for the World
“Start with Plain English”
Use short sentences
Use simple, common, concrete words
Use “you” (second person)
Use the active voice mostly
Use positive language
Put the main idea first
Be stricter than usual about sentence
20 word maximum
P. 47 & 50 Web Word Wizardry
World Wide English
Try to avoid slang, hidden metaphors, and idiomatic expressions
Just around the corner
The tip of the iceberg
In the ballpark
P. 50 Web Word Wizardry
Be specific with dates
Example: 3 February 2006
On a form, give them the date format such as mm/dd/yyyy
P. 56 Web Word Wizardry (adapted)
World Wide English
Avoid phrasal verbs (two or more words)
Instead of pick up , write collect
Instead of pick up on, write notice or observe
Instead of pick out, write choose or select, etc.
Use simple tenses
Beware of short common words with many
Double-check the clarity of, it, they, this, these,
that and those
P. 52 Web Word Wizardry
Example: Bechtel page!
Jargon Free Zone
Avoid domain jargon
Avoid abbreviations unless they are universally
recognized (USA ok)
Write for the un-indoctrinated
A few tips on writing your content
Home Page Content
First time visitor needs to immediately know what your site will do
Home page is an ad for the rest of the site –
Must sell users to continue their exploration and return again and
again if that’s appropriate
What is this site about and who is it for
Why should I be here?
What is the benefit of continuing to explore the site
What are my options, what is the site hierarchy?
Timely content and teases for the rest of the site
Search, short-cuts, registration, etc.
Where do I start?
Write to Brand
Everything about a site is the brand
Site architecture, information architecture, visual design, and
every word you write
What is the brand? How do you want it be experienced?
“Experience is the brand” . . . Clement Mok
See Resources section below
Write to gain the trust and credibility
Web democratizes – you need to stand out as reliable, up-todate
Disclose who is behind the site, where you are located, etc.
Address Specific Audience
Voice and emphasis can differ from section to section
or user segment to user segment if appropriate
Prospective students versus parents
Expert versus novice users
Luxury purchase versus basic necessity
In general a conversational tone is preferred by web
users (goes back to personal nature f the web)
Web is an interactive medium - What do you
want the user to do?
Don’t strand them at the bottom of the page –
Every page can have a call to action.
Call to action
Fill out a form
Proceed to deeper information
Invite them to act in their own interest to get them to
Tell them the benefits of their action.
Response Cues: Example
“Just fill-out this form to make sure you get regular
updates on the latest research in biotechnology – and
you may win a free seminar of your choice! ”
Establish a Style Guide
Develop a style guide for your site:
Establish a glossary for you/your writers that shoes
how to address abbreviations, acronyms,
capitalization, gender, italics, numbers, quotes,
product names, proper names and trademarks
Provide standards for bibliographies, references,
More p. 136 The Web Writers Guide
Establish a Style Guide
Include commonly missed web terms such as:
Logon – noun
Log on – verb
(sign-on better end-user term)
World Wide Web – formal name
WWW – formal abbreviation
web – web pages, website
Use online not on-line
Email versus e-mail – your choice but pick a standard.
Some editors still prefer E-mail to make meaning clearer.
For large professional sites we develop a content
development/management plan which includes the
whole world of information design as well as process
Tool include: page templates, content templates
Methods for presenting quantitative information, etc.
As well as technical strategies like content management
Just be aware that all this exists when you venture out
into the world
Question every idea and word you want to put
on the site – everything you write is for a user
– think and then think again about why you
want to include each piece of content.
What is the benefit of every word to your
What Meaning Did You Create?
Web is a visual medium
Test the meaning you have created
Ask someone else to tell you what the page is
about WITHOUT reading the text – just the
headings, subheads, links, etc.
Rules of thumb: reduce your text by 50% from print
Red Cross Authorized Provider
Jakob Nielsen’s useit.com
(search on writing for the web)
Quality Web Content
(by author of Web Word Wizardry)
Netography (and writing
Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page
Titles, and Subject Lines
P.124 Nielsen, Designing Web Usability (book)
Writing Hypertext Copy
Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr.
Newsgroup on English language use
Writing Web for the Web; Quick and Easy Tips for Nonwriters
A List Apart: Articles: 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web
Many many more – look up Writing for the Web
(linked to Amazon)
The Web Writer's Guide
by Darlene Maciuba-Koppel
by Jonathan Price (Author), Lisa Price (Author)
Writing for the Web (Writers' Edition)
by Crawford Kilian
The Web Content Style Guide
by Gerry McGovern (Author), et al
Designing Web Usability: The Practice of
by Jakob Nielsen
Prioritizing Web Usability
by Jakob Nielsen, Hoa Loranger
Web Style Guide
by Patrick J. Lynch, Sarah Horton
Web Word Wizardry A Net-Savvy Writing Guide
by Rachel McAlpine
Persuasive Online Copywriting
by Bryan Eisenberg, et al
The Online Copywriter's Handbook
by Robert W. Bly
Developing Online Content
by Irene Hammerich, Claire Harrison
Words That Sell
By Richard Bayan
The User is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and
Using Personas for Web
Steve Mulder with Ziv Yaar
About Face 2.0 The Essentials of Interaction Design
By Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann
Emotional Branding: the new paradigm for connecting brands to
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
By Al and Laura Ries