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Keep Focus and Avoid Distractions in Your Web Writing

Focus

When writing for the web, or preparing other written materials for your website, be concise. Write tersely. Cut your content by half and then by half again. Avoid stating the obvious. Forget the long introductions. Avoid breezy and verbose greetings.

Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen reports on a study that the measured usability of a typical website written in traditional "promotional style" scored:

  • 58% higher in measured usability when it was written concisely
  • 47% higher when the text was scannable, and
  • 27% higher when it was written in an objective style.

Nielsen states that "Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective at the same time resulted in 124% higher measured usability."

Distractions

Many kinds of web content distract or turn away visitors. These include:

  • Long, wordy, run-on paragraphs
  • "Welcome to…" and other lengthy introductions
  • Broken links
  • Poorly written content
  • Inconsistent navigation
  • Inconsistent user interface

Don't use 'insider' language. Keep web pages focused on your key user audiences and concentrate on meeting their needs. Segregate your public and internal content.

Don't over-emphasize. Modify text sparingly. Too much emphasis of various elements, through use of bold and italics, affects readability (and doesn't work the way you might hope to draw a reader's attention). Use a consistent style throughout.

Minimize page size. Avoid content that significantly increases page loading time, e.g., large graphics, many small graphics on one page, or multimedia elements.

Be obvious. Don't "make your visitors think." What and how to do something should be clear and obvious.

Avoid instructions. Delete extraneous instructions like, "To use this site…", "Fill in the form below…", "Click the link", "The links below will give you more information", and so forth. Make the user's task clear and obvious.

Use acronyms carefully. Spell out an acronym the first time you use it on any page. Do not use acronyms in headings. Don't assume knowledge on the part of your user.

Use blank space. Blank space is the reader's friend and helps achieve readability and usability. Chunk long paragraphs into shorter ideas.

Do not use underscores. Underlined text indicates a hyperlink.

Use "related content" judiciously. Where linking to "related content," the links should be directly relevant to the content of the page. Don't overload your links section—it diminishes the impact of your material and its presentation. Important information should always be included in the page content area; see Jakob Nielson's Banner Blindness for more on that.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

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