When writing for the web, your writing must be clear, direct and simple. Here’s why.
People don’t read the web. They scan it. In 2008, Harald Weinreich of the University of Hamburg analyzed the habits of 25 web users and their almost 60,000 page views. Jakob Nielsen studied the data set for himself, and found that:
- People read about 18% of the total words on an average page.
- Less text means readers read more. In a post of 111 words, about 50% get read. The longer the text, the fewer words a user will read.
- Readers spend about 4.4 seconds per 100 words.
Glowing screens make for slower reading. The light from the computer screen is tiring for your eyes. You read about 25% slower on the web than on the page.
Make your article scanner-friendly. Since readers are going to spend about 25 seconds reading a 500-word post, make sure your writing gives them what they’re looking for quickly with these simple tips:
- One paragraph for one idea.
- Use bold text or subtitles to highlight main ideas.
Make your writing clear by doing a few simple things:
- Limit slang and jargon, unless you’re writing for a particular audience that will grasp such special terms immediately.
- The smaller word is the friendlier word. For example, use “end” rather than “terminate.”
- The more familiar word is the better word. Suppress your urge to use “erudite” over “well-educated.”
- Start with your conclusion. Known in web circles as “front loading.” The information in the beginning of your sentence gets scanned. The information at the end does not.
- Use lists when possible.
- Align your text to the left.
Sympathy for the writers out there. Being a word-lover, I find this cardinal rule of web writing to be a little depressing. I know we always want to find interesting ways to say things. We want to create images, use dynamic language, and complex sentences that engage and surprise. Never stop doing that. Just reserve your creativity for a medium that will read it. The web (in general) is not the place.