Writing for the Web

Browsability

  • Web readers read a fraction of a page’s content. Write and format content that lends itself to browsing.
  • Consider presenting content in chunks—self-contained units of meaning—introduced with a simple paragraph or summary and organized using subheads.
  • Use short paragraphs.
  • Use inverted pyramid story structure, placing most important information at the beginning.
  • Call out essential information like times, dates, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Use subhead levels purposefully. Head levels (H1, H2, H3, etc.) assume subordinate relationships.
  • Avoid brochure-ware, simple conversions of brochures to web pages. Better to recast the content of a brochure into web pages that use guidelines above to better attract users’ attention.

Utility

  • Help web readers find the information they’re seeking.
  • Provide facts and avoid interpretation and fluff.
  • Use headlines and subheads that avoid cliché and tell something useful.

Search Engine Optimization

  • Use concise headlines that state key elements of the content.
  • Callout key words using subheads and definition lists.
  • Include a story summary in the meta-text field.

Bulleted Lists

  • Use lists to attract attention, shorten text, and show relationships.
  • Introduce lists with a clear, descriptive sentence or phrase.
  • Keep bullet items short.
  • Use parallel construction for all bullet items.
  • Capitalize first word of each bullet.
  • Use a period when bullet item is a complete sentence.

Grammar and Spelling

  • Always proofread content.
  • Poorly written content and frequent errors and inconsistencies erode our organization’s credibility.

Tone and Voice

  • Second-person voice is encouraged. Address the audience as “you” and “your.”
  • Limit use of first-person voice. Never use “I” unless it is in a direct quote. Use “we” and “our” only when it is clear to whom it refers, such as a team of providers or a group providing a service or program.
  • Use active voice.
  • Problems arise when content sounds overly empathetic, too conversational, or patronizing. Be clear, direct, and respectful.

Comprehension

  • Use language that’s familiar to the user but avoid jargon or clichés.
  • Aim for language appropriate for sixth through eighth grade, using the tool provided by Microsoft Word.
  • Be brief.
  • Build on existing understandings and models of information.

Links

  • When several links are referred to in an article, try to present them in a group rather than have them scattered throughout the piece.
  • When possible, link to content that exists on our own sites (uihc.org, uichildrens.org, uihealthcare.org, medicine.uiowa.edu).
  • Be sure the text that’s linked has relevant meaning to the destination it is headed. Do not use language like “Click here.”
  • Limit linking to .pdf documents. PDFs should be used only for forms to be filled out and mailed in; long publications (annual reports, case findings, etc.) with little need to be converted to web pages; and ephemeral pieces (marketing fliers, event giveaways).
  • Phone numbers should appear as links, allowing automatic dialing when viewed on phones.
  • Email addresses should appear as the full address and not a link on the person’s name.

Published by

Schweigel, Brynne A

Creative Media Specialist

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