Web Writing Styles and Techniques
Research on how users read on the Web and how authors should write their Web pages.
- Short summary of the original findings: How users read on the Web read this one first
- F-shaped pattern for reading web content, as seen in eyetracking studies
- Eyetracking of people reading email newsletters
- Low-literacy users exhibit different behaviors
- PR and press releases on corporate websites (75 design guidelines based on usability studies of how journalists visit company sites)
- Email newsletters (165 design guidelines: scannability even more important than for websites)
- Writing transactional email and confirmation messages
- Teenagers on the Web: poor reading skills and low patience levels mean that text has to be ultra-concise for teens and that more information must be communicated in images
- Tagline Blues: what's the site about?
- Use old keywords when writing to be found by search users
- Show numbers as numerals when writing for online readers
- Microcontent: writing headlines, page titles, and email subject lines
- How to write inverted pyramids in cyberspace
- Information pollution
- Intranet usability, including guidelines for intranet content, news on intranets, HR manuals, and how to present information about projects, teams, and individuals on intranets
- Full paper documenting the original research from 1997 (long): Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web (unfortunately this paper was written for print and not online)
- Case study: Applying Writing Guidelines to Web Pages improved usability by 159% when rewriting sample pages from a popular website
Other Writing SitesResearch shows that external links enhance site credibility, so here are links to some other good sites about how to write for the Web.
- Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, by Janice (Ginny) Redish
- Writing for the Web, by Crawford Kilian
Much is known about how to write help text, online documentation, and other technical writing, and a good deal of the advice from these fields does transfer to writing for the Web. The main difference is that Web readers are much less motivated than readers of online docs since they can't know whether the site is relevant to their goals (in contrast, the docs are always relevant to using a product, even when the writing stinks).
Good references on writing help and online documentation:
- Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers, by Karen A. Schriver.
- A great book about utilitarian writing, based on observations of people using a large variety of documents.
- Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry (2nd edition, by Sun Microsystems' tech pubs group) and The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (3rd edition, by Microsoft's tech pubs group)
- The official writing guidelines used by folks who write a lot of online docs.
- Designing Usable Electronic Text: Ergonomic Aspects of Human Information Usage, second edition, by Andrew Dillon.
- Not for the faint of heart: this is not a popular book; nor is it a how-to. It is a review of the research literature on online text and will save you weeks of time in the library (assuming that you want to know these basic research results in the first place).
Recommended books about Web design and hypertext