Writing for the web training
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Writing for the Web Training. November 19-25, 2009. Three “Web Writing” Disciplines. Unlike traditional writing, there are three key parts to good web writing – not all of them about putting “pen to paper.” Creating good content Building a solid information architecture

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Writing for the web training

Writing for the Web Training

November 19-25, 2009


Three web writing disciplines

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Three “Web Writing” Disciplines

Unlike traditional writing, there are three key parts to good web writing – not all of them about putting “pen to paper.”

  • Creating good content

  • Building a solid information architecture

  • Understanding your visitors


Web vs print

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Web vs. Print

  • The web is not fun to read – 25% harder to read than print!

  • The web is a tool

  • People use websites to complete tasks – readers think in terms of action

  • People scan for the exact information they want and make decisions based on it

  • The web is connected and readers expect to move to pages or do things when using it

  • The web is full of conflicting information, and authority is always suspect


And now some terrifying stats

University of Nebraska Medical Center

And Now, Some Terrifying Stats

The average visitor to UNMC’s website:

  • Stays for 2 minutes, 48 seconds

  • Visits 3 and a half pages

  • Leaves at the front page (bounces) half the time

  • Is new to UNMC (hasn’t visited within the previous month) one-third of the time

  • Is from the United States 96% of the time


Writing for the web training

University of Nebraska Medical Center

6 Easy Web Writing Rules


Rule 1 think from the task

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 1: Think from the Task

  • The web is an active medium, unlike print – a tool.

  • Focus on what the “average” visitor to your page wants to do (e.g. find a faculty member, learn about core research facilities, apply for a job), then help them accomplish that goal

  • These tasks can change from page to page or section to section – look carefully at each

  • Important in planning AND in maintenance

  • Remember – it’s not about the journey, but the destination


Rule 1 think from the task tactics

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 1: Think from the Task - Tactics

  • Don’t try to be everything to everybody – focus on your core task(s) and do those well

  • Use action-oriented voice (“look here” vs. “read our site,” “register now” vs. “download a form”) and present tense

  • Cross-link pages to help drive visitors to the end goal.

  • At each page, ask your stakeholders “What is the goal? How does the page serve the needs of our audiences? What tasks does it help them complete?”

  • If you don’t know who’s using your page, find out through web analytics, surveys, usability (PR can help you)


Rule 2 less is more

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 2: Less is More

  • You’ve got 30 seconds to get your point across

  • Fewer choices/pieces of info increases the value of those presented.

  • Focus on relevance rather than volume

  • Fewer words makes text faster to read

  • Fewer paragraphs make a page (and your key points) easier to digest

  • Too many options often leads to “option paralysis”

  • More pages/clicks not bad if each page’s value is clear


Rule 2 less is more tactics

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 2: Less is More - Tactics

  • Present only the site you can manage – if someone in your office hasn’t read every page of your site in the last year, it’s being undermanaged.

  • A smaller, maintained site is much better than a larger, unmaintained one.

  • Split your content out into more pages, if that will help focus the reader on what you’re trying to tell them

  • Build the more detailed content “lower” in your site

  • NEVER sacrifice completeness for brevity!

    Reference: “Traditional writing skills don’t work online” (McGovern)


Rule 3 make it scannable

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 3: Make It Scannable

  • Remember the “Flying F” reading pattern (right)

  • Reader should be able to judge the value and intent of a paragraph as quickly as possible

  • Text should be self-contained and usable even if not fully read

  • Lead with your best stuff – thesis statements, critical points, conclusion, etc. – and support your statements after (the “inverted pyramid” style)

  • Use subheaders to break up large block of text

  • Bullet points and callouts are your friend

    Reference: “F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content” (Nielsen)


Rule 3 make it scannable tactics

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Rule 3: Make It Scannable - Tactics

  • One thought per sentence

  • One thesis statement per paragraph, in first line

  • Sentences – Less than 25 words

  • Paragraphs – Less than 5 sentences and no more than 100 words (40-70 ideal)

  • Use this gauge to eyeball proper web text density:

  • Least DenseMost Dense

  • Powerpoint > Web Content > Press Release > Other Print


  • Rule 4 say what you mean

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 4: Say What You Mean

    • Help the reader quickly assess what your page is about so they can complete their task

    • Make your language and intent as clear as possible – don’t make them think!

    • Don’t try to be clever or cute with language

    • Build visitor’s trust that your page is authoritative

    • Remember – what’s meaningful to you may not be as meaningful to them

    • Don’t “waste their time” – tell them and get them on to their next task, or you’ll just lose them.


    Rule 4 say what you mean tactics

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 4: Say What You Mean - Tactics

    • Use customer-oriented language, rather than internally-oriented language (PR can help you here)

    • Avoid long or technical descriptions unless the audience specifically requires it

    • Avoid acronyms (or use them only after you first explain them) – i.e. “Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)” instead of just “SURP”

    • Avoid qualified language (“important links,” “vital resources”) – show the reader why it’s important rather than telling


    Rule 5 mean what you say

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 5: Mean What You Say

    • We’re providing instructions for visitors to use our site, and they’re trusting us

    • Accuracy in facts and in language is vital to building visitors’ trust in your website

    • Visitors come to your site to learn things, with an expectation that information is true

    • Likewise, every link is a promise that visitors make a leap of faith on

    • Inaccuracies are not only misleading, they are frustrating and undermine the value of the rest of your site


    Rule 5 mean what you say tactics

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 5: Mean What You Say – Tactics

    • Keep your website well-maintained – if you can’t keep it up, cut it back (see Rule #2)!

    • Use constantly changing statistics sparingly (current enrollment, year references, specific grant amounts, etc.)

    • Title your links clearly and descriptively (i.e. “College of Nursing” not “click here”) when possible

    • If you can’t be authoritative on your topic, link to someone who is (e.g. you can’t keep flu information up-to-date on your site, but you can link to the CDC or WHO who will)


    Rule 6 think from the link

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 6: Think From the Link

    • If a web site is a body, and the pages its organs, then links are the vessels that keep its lifeblood (visitors) moving

    • Good links form the backbone of a good site, logically moving the visitor to your critical information

    • As an active medium, web sites are dependant upon links – they are the main way a visitor acts in your site.

    • Because visitors move through sites so fast and are highlighted in color, links are often more important and used than any other text in your page


    Rule 6 think from the link tactics

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Rule 6: Think From the Link - Tactics

    • Links should be logical and focus on tasks/action

    • Links should be descriptively labeled to tell the visitor where he will end up (name of site/page is a good start)

    • Link names should be distinct from one another (i.e. not “education” and “academic programs”) in the same site

    • Page URLs should not contain numbers (i.e. not /163.htm)

    • URLs should not be exposed (i.e. http://www.unmc.edu) unless the point is to deliver a web site address.

    • Popup links should be only used when going outside UNMC or to a “dead end” page like a form


    How do i know if my content is good

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    How Do I Know if My Content is Good?

    Test your content quality by asking the six C’s (McGovern, 2006)

    • Who cares?

    • Is it compelling?

    • Is it clear?

    • Is it complete?

    • Is it concise?

    • Is it correct?


    Are there unmc web style rules

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Are There UNMC Web Style Rules?

    The UNMC web style guide is now online and contains:

    • These guidelines in greater detail

    • Text and image formatting guides

    • Explanations of UNMC’s overall web strategy

      The document will continue to evolve as we expand the tools and training for web developers. You may download it at the Branding Resources site (http://info.unmc.edu/brandingresources.htm)


    What if i need help

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    What if I Need Help?

    If you are just starting out or need some help with troublesome pages, PR is ready to help you with:

    • Developing high-level marketing content for your site, through your assigned beat contact.

    • Providing you with analytics access or reports

    • Suggestions for customer-oriented language or audiences who are using the website

      We want to be a better partner and resource for you in web communications! Sign up for the web developers list for more info.


    Web writing references

    University of Nebraska Medical Center

    Web Writing References

    Here are some of the best references on web writing available:

    • Killer Web Content (Gerry McGovern, 2006)

    • Don’t Make Me Think! (Steve Krug, 2005)

    • UseIt.com (Jakob Nielsen)


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