Writing for the Web

Suggestions by Amy Hartman, electronic documents librarian,
K-State Research and Extension

Content and Readability

Users skim webpages and may not take time to figure out how a site is supposed to work. To make a webpage lend itself to skimming:

  • If a title is long, put the most important words first.
  • Keep paragraphs short, and put the most important content first.
  • Use subheadings and lists. Not all readers will scroll down a long page.
  • Avoid blocks of small print, jargon, and complex sentences.
  • Sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, may be easier to read online than serif fonts, such as Times.
  • Black text on white background has the best contrast.
  • Links should be easy to find (colored text, often underlined).
  • Link to a file to print (PDF, for example) for easier in-depth reading.
  • Don’t confuse readers with text that looks like a link (colored or underlined) but isn’t.
  • Webpages are discovered by search engines, so each should make sense if read alone. Include identifying information (header, footer, etc.) so readers know where each page originated.
  • The title, subheadings, links, and text should include logical keywords.

Technical Issues

  • Avoid spaces in names of Web files and folders.
  • Avoid posting scanned documents. Use real text so search engines can locate content. To determine whether text is real or scanned, copy and paste it into a word processor (MS Word, for instance).
  • Test your pages. Proofread text and check links frequently.
  • Look at the pages with more than one Web browser.
  • Keep file size as small as possible.
  • Multipage documents (such as PDFs or PowerPoint) should be less than 1,000K.
  • Large documents are slow to download. Use low-resolution graphics files (less than 100K, smaller if there are several graphics on a page). Add alternate text to graphics so search engines can read them.
  • If you use several photos in a rotating slide show, make sure they are exactly the same width and height. Rotating photos of different heights makes the text below the photos seem to “bounce.”
  • Animated graphics can be distracting.
  • For PDF files, add a good title to the document properties. This title is displayed in search results.

Some concepts from: Don’t Make Me Think! (2nd ed.) by Steve Krug (2005, New Riders Publishing)