Writing for the web - engage - keep it short and avoide pitfalls

How to write for the Web – Part 2

Engage, keep it short and avoid pitfalls

This is the second part of the art of writing for the web. In Part 1, I wrote about how the reader can quickly skim text on the web for something of interest, and that I only have about 3-4 seconds for me to catch the reader’s interest. In this part, I focus on engagement, language, text length, and how to avoid common pitfalls.

Engage the reader

Since  you already have figured out

  • WHO you are writing for
  • WHAT the needs and interests of that person are
  • HOW you can help out to meet those needs
  • you know WHAT your web page needs to contain

Once you’ve got your reader to stop scanning the text and start to look at what you write, you need to engage the reader.

To do this you need to speak to the reader and not at them.  Picture a specific person sitting there in front of you reading your text –  it’s not a group or a company or a anonymous customer.

Another way to engage the reader is to use words that they can relate to. Avoid internal jargon and business  speak. The content should be clear and easy to understand, without the reader having to interpret the text.

Try to keep an objective and neutral tone in your writing.

Focus on benefits instead of features

If you want to deliver product (or service) information you should focus on what specific benefits the user will gain from the product. And if you still want to specify the features, remember to carefully explain the benefits of these features.

For example:  The product is a down jacket in Gore-Tex. The features are down and the Gore-Tex material. Benefits for the reader is that the jacket will keep you comfortably warm and dry this winter.

Length of  the text

How long text you should write depends of the purpose and the wealth of information that your reader expect.

Start off with the most important information. Then add content with more details and background information.

Some brief text rules

One rule is that the web copy should be only half of the lengths compare to copy on plain paper. You should strive for a content of a maximum of 1500 characters including spaces.

Ideally the readers shouldn’t have to scroll, but in case they have to they should only have to do it once. When you are finished writing your text, go through it again and see if you can shorten it down.

Then again, your readers are looking for different things – some want short informative text, others a lengthy and comprehensive content.  So vary the length of your text and adjust to the different types of readers you have.

Avoid pitfalls

Watch out for the spelling and writing mistakes that are so easily done. Carefully proofread what you have written.  Proofreading is a very difficult task since you already know what is in there.

One tip to find flaws is to change the font of the text and read again. You can also read the text aloud to yourself, then you can hear if you have made any grammatical mistakes.

The optimal way to do the proofreading is, of course, to ask somebody else to help out.

Avoid using italics and underlined text

Italic text is harder to read on the screen and should be avoided. However, one can use italic font on things that are not that important but still has to be there, such as dates and times of blog posts.

Underlined text shouldn’t be used since it  indicates links – if there isn’t a link the reader will be disappointed.

Go here if you want more info on web writing

NN / g Nielsen Norman Group – US website with lots of info
For swedes – Erik Geijer, Skriva för webbenw

That was my advice and tips – What are yours?

And an extra thing for you – how many errors did you find in the text?

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