When it comes to the web, people rarely have much time or attention to spend on reading information. Often people come to a website with a topic or question in mind, they quickly scan through headers, the first part of sentences, paragraphs, bullet points, links and decide whether they read more thoroughly or move on.
Sometimes, they get distracted and move on to a completely different topic!
So how can we respect our visitors’ time and busy schedules? …or low attention spans, even.
Set a tone and use plain language
Write conversationally in plain language, short sentences, short words, using headings and subheadings to draw attention to keywords and key phrases.
Think about who you are talking to. The language you use should be inclusive and easy to follow for the reader. Avoid using complicated jargon, acronyms, a bureaucratic tone, unnecessary repetition or passive tense.
When referring to acronyms, always use the full name first, followed by the acronym in brackets.
An active voice is preferred over a passive voice
Active voice makes it clear who is doing what. In an active sentence, the person that is acting is the subject. The active voice is generally easier for people to read by grabbing information quickly and easily.
Passive sentences obscure or omit the sentence subject. However, you may want to use a passive voice when the sentence object is more important than the subject.
Active voice — ’The customer must fill out the form’.
Passive voice —‘The form must be filled out by the customer’.
Speak in first person narrative
Write as if you’re speaking directly to the person who is reading the content, have a conversation with them. For anything related to your team or company, refer to as ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’. For your audience refer to them as ‘you’ and ‘your’.
Example — ’You will notice a few updates to our website’ ‘Contact us via our online form’.
Use headlines, headings, and sub-headings
Keep your headlines and sub-headings short, relevant and specific to the subject. If you need to use a particularly long heading, try to break this up into a heading and sub-heading.
Consider accessibility by using heading ranks
Assistive technologies such as screen readers use headings to provide in-page navigation.
Nest headings by their rank (or level). The most important heading has the rank 1 (
<h1> ), the least important heading rank 6 (
Headings with an equal or higher rank start a new section, headings with a lower rank start new subsections that are part of the higher-ranked section.
<h1> ) Top header
<h2> ) Second header
<h3> ) Next header
<h2> ) New section header
<h3> ) Next header
<h3> ) Same ranking header
<h4> ) Next header
<h1> ) New section header
<h2> ) Next header
<h2> ) Same ranking header
<h3> ) Next header
Start with the imperative
Untangle a stuffed sentence by finding the key message first and then answer peoples questions in the order they would ask them.
Try delivering your content as a ‘Bite – Snack – Meal’ configuration.
- Bite — is a headline with a message.
- Snack — is a concise summary that provides enough information for a content overview.
- Meal — is the full, original content.
- Create easy to scan content
- Mention the most important part of the message at the top of your article
- Break up your sentences and paragraphs with headers and bullet points where possible
- Address only one key concept per paragraph
- Ensure what you’re publishing is helpful to the audience
- Have a fresh set of eyes check over it and provide feedback
- Always do a spelling/grammar check before uploading content
- Help internal and external searches by including useful keywords into your articles.
Questions to ask
- Is it easy to read and understand?
- Is the voice active and consistent?
- Is it too short or too long?
- Do my headings split up the content effectively?
- Has it been spell-checked?
- Have I used a good number of keywords?
- Do hyperlinks clearly identify where they will lead the audience?
- Could it be better said with a relevant image or video?
- Is it helpful in some way?