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Write for the web

Writing for the web is different to writing for print. You need to give people what they want quickly. Write for your target audience, keep it short and simple and get rid of jargon. Put your most important content first, use the inverted pyramid structure and write in the active voice.

When your school teacher taught you how to write longer passages of text, you were probably taught the traditional academic writing style:

  1. Start by laying the foundations of your article
  2. Expand into further areas, give more detail and explore alternatives
  3. End with a brief conclusion

Academic writing style starts with introduction at the top of the pyramid, expand arguments in the centre and conclusion at the pyramid

If you used this style when writing for the web, users would leave your page long before reading the most important information in your conclusion.

When writing for the web, invert this structure and use a journalistic writing style – the ‘inverted pyramid’:

Inverted pyramid shows widest section at the top holding the conclusion and essential information, then adding supporting information and then related information at the bottom

Put your conclusion and essential information in the first paragraph. Users will read this and decide whether to continue down the page. Follow with paragraphs of increasing detail and finish with related information, such as links to similar pages or materials.

You should use the inverted pyramid on web pages because it's the appropriate style for people scanning and reading at speed.

Keep it short and simple

  • Use everyday language
  • Read your writing aloud to yourself – do you sound natural or stuffy?
  • When you think you've finished, cut your word count by at least a third
  • One paragraph per idea (it's ok to use a single sentence paragraph)
  • Avoid jargon
  • Explain abbreviations and acronyms
  • Use verbs – actions make for more dynamic language
  • Be concrete, avoid generalities

Put important content first

This technique is called ‘frontloading’. By putting your most important words and ideas first, you increase the chance of skim readers pausing. You'll also find it makes your writing more interesting and direct. Try to put your most important words and information at the front of:

  • Page titles
  • Paragraphs
  • Sentences
  • Headings
  • Pages (opening summary paragraphs can help, as used at the top of this page)
  • Link caption text

Use the active voice

When you write in the active voice it's clear who is doing what in a sentence.

Consider this sentence:

“Transferable skills and the value of work experience are emphasised.”

This sentence is in the passive voice. Who emphasises “transferable skills and the value of work experience”? You don't know.

To turn this into the active voice, specify who is doing the action. For example:

“Graduate employers emphasise transferable skills and value work experience.”

Rewriting text in the passive voice into the active voice has several benefits:

  • It makes your writing more interesting
  • You can usually write the same information in fewer words
  • Frontloading becomes easier
  • Sentences become easier for readers to decode

Using the active voice naturally helps you write in the first person and address the reader directly. For example, “I am” (or the first person plural, we, “the Web Team are”) writing this guide using the same words I would say to “you” in a face-to-face presentation setting.

Summary

You will improve the written quality of your web pages by adopting these four techniques:

  • Inverted pyramid style
  • Keep it short and simple
  • Frontload important content
  • Use the active voice