How to write for the Web, based on user studies:
- Tone: Write like you are talking to a friend. Do not talk down to users. Avoid self-serving language or overblown claims: it turns people off and makes them doubt you. Present the facts and let users come to their own conclusions.
- Reading level: Write to a sixth-grade level (six years of schooling) for your main content. For content deeper in your site, you can go up to an eighth-grade level. There are websites that can measure the reading level of your content. If it is too high, use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs. “Causes cancer” is way better than “carcinogenic”.
- Jargon, acronyms, sarcasm, humour, idioms – avoid these. Not everyone will understand them. An idiom is an expression like “happy as a clam” or “caught with your pants down”. For those who know little or no English, they do not translate well and draw attention away from what you are saying.
- The first two sentences: these should make your main points. Everything else on the page is there to support it or add to it. Newspapers do this. They call it the inverted pyramid.
- Bolding: this should allow users to quickly scan your page and find the information they want. Too much bolding, though, will make your page look busy. Do not bold whole sentences or long phrases.
- Paragraphs: these should have only one idea, should start with a topic sentence and be no more than five sentences long. Users read the beginning of a paragraph to see if they want to read the rest of it. They avoid longer paragraphs.
- Vertical lists: these are easier to read than a list buried in a paragraph. But do not use too many or for lists with fewer than four things. Use numbered lists for things that go in a certain order, a bulleted list for those that do not. Put a sentence or phrase before the list to show what it is about.
- Page titles, headings, links: these should be short, plain and descriptive. They should guide the user to and through your content. If you are too cute or clever, users will skip over them. Studies show that in Internet searches, users often only look at the first few words of your title. Keep headings to under 60 characters, left-justified. Do not use ALL CAPS.
- Pages: Users do not like to stay on a page for too long. After a point they want to click on something. So it is better to have several short pages than one long one. But divide the content in a way that makes sense – do not just have links that say “Continue” or “Next Page”. Each page has to make sense on its own. Because of search engines, any user can land on any page of your website.
– Abagond, 2015.
Source: “Prioritizing Web Usability” (2006) by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger.
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