When you write for the mysterious world of cyberspace, you still have to convey benefits and write for human beings, the same as you would for offline media. It’s just that web users like copy to be written in a certain way. Thankfully, you can heave a sigh of relief: most of the basic conventions are the same. But here are a few tips for staying on the web writing straight-and-narrow.
Make your copy easy to read
Keep sentences short: 10 to 16 words will do nicely. Include slightly longer ones every now and then to prevent your copy from becoming monotonous.
Keep your paragraphs short too. Unless every single word you write is pure gold, big chunks of text will have users making a run for it. Paragraphs of 3 to 4 lines will hit the spot.
And be concise. Avoid burying key points in a sea of fluff, adjectives and complex vocabulary. Users won’t wade through it all to get to the important bits: they’ll just go to someone who gets to the point quicker.
Make it easy to scan
Many online users scan — i.e. skim read— content before they decide to read it, to gauge whether it’s worth reading more i.e. whether you’re article is interesting or useful to them.
Structure your copy (and your website, of course) so that users can navigate through it easily. Break up long pieces by using headings. These will guide users through the copy, allowing them to skip bits that aren’t relevant to them (none, if you’ve done a good job), like fast forwarding to all the fight sequences when watching kung fu movies (you know you do it!).
Make it easy to understand
Don’t spoil all of your hard work by using words no one understands. Use simple vocabulary, such as ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’. The more you force users to open a dictionary, the less likely they are to do what you want them to.
Remember how Mum would just glance at her shopping list; drop the item she wanted into the trolley; and then move swiftly down the aisle?
You can help users do the same by using numbered or bullet-pointed lists in your copy. This helps those who are in a hurry to grasp key points or tips quickly and dash on to their next task. Long live the list!
Today’s magic word is…
You’ve guessed it: easy. Internet users, like other people, are in a hurry. They’re interested in your product, service, website, etc. and want you to meet their needs quickly. Do this with simple, well-structured copy and you’re in a great position to secure a purchase, subscription or whatever else your copy has set out to do. Good work!