My passion is web usability and there are many factors at play when it comes to this topic. One large factor that shouldn’t be overlooked is how to write for the web. Your site can follow all the right principles and then lose the reader right at the critical moment when they get to the final content. Users generally tend to skim when reading online and it’s important to keep content short and to the point. The less words you use, the better. Simply put – less is more.
Breaking content into smaller chunks is key. Shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to digest and scan. Bullet points are a great way to visually separate content and keep text to a minimum. Adding visual elements such as call out boxes also helps to chunk out content and draw attention to key points. Using headings is another key way to chunk out content for the reader.
Visual Elements Help
Additional ways to chunk out content and make it easily readable:
- Bold, italicize, or underline key words
- Use color, when appropriate
- Add graphics and images
- Use white space
Online is different than print!
Content that is laid out in a print document such as a PDF may look great, short and to the point, but many times doesn’t translate to the the web. Web sites often have a lot of real estate that is taken up by top and side navigation or a template that limits the page width. Because of this, a paragraph that takes up 3 or 4 lines in a printed document may take up 5 or 6 lines on a screen. This reinforces the point of why you should be brief. I’ll repeat – less is more.
Screen size, resolution, browser, device type, and personal settings also affect the way a page displays. Print is much more consistent. If you pick up 5 copies of the same magazine you are all but guaranteed to be sure the layout, colors, page count, and all visual elements are completely identical. The bottom line is that you can’t control the way a web page displays in the same way that you can control a printed page. But, you can control how you layout your page content, the length of your sentences, and your overall word count, which reinforces why the principles above are so important.
A tweet = 140 characters
Additionally, people approach online content in a different manner than printed material. People have been conditioned that print material such as a magazine article may be several pages long, but with the popularity of social media, tweets, facebook feeds, and the like people have become accustomed to short snippets of information. People expect online content to be brief. If you tweet then you already know how much information you can get across with limited words. Tweets aren’t even measured in words, they are measured in characters.
How short is 140 characters? It’s super short. The paragraph above is 542 characters, including spaces. That’s about the equivalent of 4 tweets. Here is the above paragraph in 140 characters:
Online is diff than print. Print is long, ppl expect online to be brief. If yr on Twitter you know how much you can say in a 140 char tweet.
Of course you aren’t going to write a page in a series of tweet formatted sentences, but it helps to keep this in mind for a couple reasons. For one, it helps puts you in the mindset of the reader rather than the writer. For two, it reinforces that less is more. If you can get your point across in 7 words instead of 10, you have to ask yourself do I really need those 3 words?