Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print publications. Web visitors scan content; they don't read every line on the page and every word in a line of copy. They are searching for information. Help them find it.
Writing for the web best practices
- Organize your content for visitors who scan pages.
- Decide the purpose or goal of the page and make sure the content supports it.
- Write like a journalist and use the inverted pyramid formula: most important content at the top, least important at the bottom.
- Write meaningful headings and group content under the headings.
- Use bullet points for easy to scan pieces of content.
- Write short paragraphs with only one idea per paragraph.
- Write clearly and concisely.
- Minimize unnecessary words. (You can always find additional words to eliminate if you edit and proof your content.)
- Avoid jargon and technical terms.
- Write for an 8th grade reading level, because the average web visitor reads at this level. (You can test your content using The Readability Test Tool.)
- Write in active voice because more often than not, active voice is more concise.
- In active voice, the subject does the action. (The student researched social constructs.)
- In passive voice, the subject receives the action. (The social constructs were researched by the student.)
What not to do
- Don't underline. Underlining denotes hyperlinked text.
- Don't use double (or more) spaces after end punctuation marks (periods, exclamation points, question marks).
- Don't write in all caps. Assistive devices will read each letter as an individual letter. For example, "SCREAM" would be read as S-C-R-E-A-M.
Writing link text
- Don't use generic anchor text for your hyperlinked text. For example, the terms "click here," "read more," "learn more," and "here" are not descriptive enough for a web visitor using assistive technology to understand all the links on a page.
- If you are linking to a document (PDF, Word document), note the document type in parenthesis or brackets after your descriptive anchor text.
- Don't do this: Refer to Cornell's style guide by clicking here.
- Do this: Refer to Cornell's style guide [PDF].
- Organize your headings to present the content in a logical reading order.
- Write headings that assist scanning visitors in finding information quickly.
- Headings can be informative and direct attention to important pieces of content.
Ask a colleague to edit and proofread your copy before publishing. Tell them to use this web page as a guide. The Hemingway App assists you in writing like its namesake.
- Avoid long or complex sentences.
- Don't use a longer word when a shorter word will do. (Notice I did not use the word utilize in place of use.)
- Write boldly. Avoid adverbs and long phrases.
- Use active voice. Passive voice lengthens sentences.
- Count your words
- Headings: ten words or less
- Sentences: 20 words or less
- Paragraphs: 60 words or less
Being good stewards of Cornell's reputation
- The Office of Marketing and Communications offers writing for the web training for all web creators on campus.
- You're expected to follow the writing for the web guidelines, which includes following Cornell's style guide.
- Have your content proofed for spelling and grammar errors by a colleague.
- You must adhere to copyright laws for text and images.
- Ask permission of individuals in an image before using it.
- Don't plagiarize.
- If you receive notice that you have spelling, grammar, accessibility, or broken link issues on a web page you are responsible for maintaining, remediate the page as soon as possible.
- Avoid egregious content (profanity, severe style guide violations, non-factual information).