Writing for the web: ten tips (and a bonus)

When writing for the web, keep in mind that your reader will often be scanning the text quickly. Online readers very rarely read a text word by word. Instead, they scan webpages to find the information they are looking for.

Three sobering statistics:

  1. On average, surfers read about 20% of all of the information on a webpage.
  2. They usually stay on one webpage for less than a minute.
  3. They decide whether a webpage is worth reading within the first ten seconds of their visit.

Tip 1 – Get straight to the point

Write as you would for a newspaper. The title and lead sentence should contain the most important pieces of information. When describing research, for example, you should begin with the results or conclusions. The other details will come later in your text.

Tip 2 – Provide answers to your readers’ questions

Don’t start by thinking about what you want to say. Instead, ask yourself what your readers are looking for. Doing this will make it clear to your readers what’s in it for them. You should also use the words that your readers would use themselves.

Example 1:

NOT: bicycle parking facilities for students

BUT: where to park your bike

Example 2:

NOT: ‘catering’

BUT: ‘food’ or ‘student restaurants’

Tip 3 – Divide the text into bite-size chunks

Write short paragraphs of not more than five sentences, limiting yourself to just one key idea per paragraph. Leave a clear space between each paragraph.

Tip 4 – Write clear headings and use subheadings too

Choose informative headings and subheadings. Use meaningful words that express exactly what you want to say, and put keywords near the beginning of the heading.

Tip 5 – Emphasise key words in bold

Underlining is not a good idea: this can look like a link. You should also avoiding writing large pieces of text in italics, as this is difficult to read on a screen. Consult the English Style Guide for more information.

Tip 6 – Make lists

Whenever you need to list three or more items, make a list using bullet points.

Tip 7 – Place links on a keyword or a call-to-action

In principle, links should be placed on words or phrases that are meaningful and understandable even without the surrounding words or sentences. Pick out the keywords and use these for the link rather than ‘click here’, ‘more info’ or the name of a website.

Example 1:

NOT: The Business Administration programme has received EPAS accreditation. More info about this quality label.

BUT: The Business Administration programme has received EPAS accreditation.

Example 2:

NOT: To register for the conference, click here.

BUT: Register for the conference.

Tip 8 – Avoid abbreviations and acronyms

In running text, write ‘the University of Antwerp’. ‘UAntwerp’ should be used only in tables and on navigation buttons.

FRECH, FBDO, FWET, etc. = These shortened forms are incomprehensible to outsiders, especially those who don’t speak Dutch. Use the full (English) name for each faculty. See the Style Guide for help.

The names of the campuses should also be written in full: Stadscampus, Campus Middelheim, Campus Groenenborger, Campus Drie Eiken, Campus Zuid, Campus Hoboken, etc. Not CST, CMI, CGR, CDE.

Tip 9 – Always use the same word for a key concept

Don’t waste time and energy trying to spice up your text with synonyms. If you’re writing about a programme, for example, then stick to ‘programme’ rather than switching to ‘course’. Synonyms can cause confusion, both for the reader and for Google.

Tip 10 – Write short, active sentences

Split long and complex sentences into shorter sentences. Make sure the subject of the sentence ‘does’ the verb. In other words, avoid using the passive voice.

 

Don’t forget to check the University of Antwerp’s English Style Guide (pdf - 2.89 Mb) for all kinds of help and guidelines for writing in English at our university.