Like a lot of other businesses, we’ve been using the COVID-19 downtime to do a bit of housekeeping, including the next iteration of the Red Pony website (more about that soon). We’ve also been helping several other clients develop content to update their own sites, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to provide a few tips on writing for the web.
Before you start
With any piece of writing, it is important to have a clear idea of the intended audience to keep the message focused. This is particularly true of the web, where readers will quickly move on if they find that the information isn’t relevant to them.
Before you start drafting the content for a page, make sure you have answered these two basic questions:
1. Who is this for?
Are you trying to engage potential clients, internal staff or people of influence? Are they subject matter experts, mid-level managers or senior executives? Are they from Australia or overseas? Be as specific as possible. If you find the audience is too broad, create separate pages for each group.
2. What do I want them to do after reading this?
This is the purpose or the call to action. Are you writing to simply inform, or do you want to elicit a response (e.g. download a spec sheet, post a reply, complete an enquiry form)?
Use plain English
Writing in plain English is good practice in general, but it is especially important on the web. Not only does it mean your text is easier to read, but it also ensures maximum accessibility for an audience who will have varying levels of subject matter expertise, education and language skills.
Here are five plain English tips to apply to your web writing:
1. Use the active rather than the passive voice
For example, ‘the teacher corrected the exams’ instead of ‘the exams were corrected by the teacher’.
2. Stick to one idea per paragraph
If you want to introduce another concept, begin another paragraph.
3. Never use a complex word when there is a simpler alternative
For example, ‘begin’ instead of ‘commence’, ‘end’ instead of ‘conclude’, ‘plan’ instead of ‘strategise’.
4. Remove unnecessary words
For example, ‘quarterly’ instead of ‘on a quarterly basis’, ‘with’ instead of ‘in conjunction with’.
5. Reread what you have written
Does it make sense to you? Do you think your meaning will be clear for the intended audience? If not, rewrite your text until it does.