The world wide web is a fantastic publishing medium. Anyone, anywhere, with a web browser can access it; it’s easy to update materials; quick and cheap to publish; and adding links to other pages enhances the value of your own. But the web was not designed to be an all-purpose display medium. Computer screens are low-resolution eye-strainers. You can’t easily curl up on the sofa with a web page.
When writing for the web, bear in mind the power and the constraints of the medium. Here are five golden rules.
- Use the ‘inverted pyramid’ — web users are unwilling to scroll through articles to get to the point. Summarise your story up front to lead readers to the rest of the article
- Keep it brief — reading lengthy copy onscreen is uncomfortable. Articles should be short — maybe no more than 500 words per screen — to maximise readability
- Make articles ‘scannable’ — use highlights and bullets to draw the wandering eye of the web user
- Use the power of hypertext — easy linking is the greatest strength of the web. Links should be used sparingly within text. Well-maintained collections of links and references give people reasons to publicise and revisit documents
- Keep information up-to-date, accurate and consistent — on the web, as with any medium, errors, inconsistencies and out-of-date material damage credibility