In the November 2005 issue of The E-Writing Bulletin, Leslie O’Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick give pointers on writing for the web.
1. The authors caution against “bland, cliched mission statements which web visitors rarely read. Instead, O’Flavahan and Rudick suggest making the About Us pages clear and specific because “visitors care more about what your company can do and what you believe in.”
2. While PDF’s are all right if the content will always be printed and read as hard copy, O’Flavahan and Rudick say they should be avoided for the following reasons:
- PDF’s are slow to load and clumsy to scroll through.
- PDF’s are rarely hyperlinked to related content at the site.
- PDF page numbers get messed up.
- Reading in Adobe’s browser within your web browser can be irritating.
3. Don’t just say “Click here,” tell visitors where the link is leading them and what they’ll find when they get there. Examples: Click here to learn more about; Click here to pay on-line; Click here for answers to FAQ’s
4. Proofreading shows you care. Run spell check. “Errors make even good content look bad.”
5. Be concise. Avoid using three words when one word will do. The authors cite a wordy passage from the Future of Family Medicine site and transformed it into a concise 35-word paragraph.
The 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.”
The 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. Avoid text effects that make text move, scroll or disappear. Words are easier to read when still.
7. Avoid fluff. Use concrete language. If you can’t avoid it, link abstractions (e.g., implementation and innovation) to case studies full of specific information.
8. Page design must support, not fight, the content. The page design oath admonishes us to “do no harm to written content.”
9. Use headings. Headings help readers scan content before reading the whole piece. They also help readers find the paragraphs they want to read.