Writing for the Web

Laura Christenson



Content / User Experience Strategist

University of Iowa

Print vs. Web


  • Long paragraphs OK
  • Space dictates structure
  • Faster to read
  • Passive
  • Word-for-word


  • Short paragraphs best
  • Writer dictates structure
  • 25% longer to read
  • Active
  • Quick scan
“Web users generally prefer writing that is concise, easy to scan, and objective (rather than promotional) in style.”

– Jakob Nielsen

Why Bother

  • Fewer service calls
  • More credibility
  • Better reputation and trust
  • Higher rankings in search engines

Tips for writing great web content

Keep Content Concise

  • Get to the point quickly
  • Cut out unnecessary information
  • Half the word count of print...
    (or less)
  • Use easy-to-understand words
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences

When in doubt, cut it out.

Test your writing style using readability formulas.

For example...


Nice stoplight system for content.

Help Readers Scan

Use the Inverted Pyramid

The Lead

  • Summarize the most important info
  • Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  • 25 - 30 words

The Body

  • Crucial Information
  • Story, Details, photos, video
  • Length depends, shoot for 100-200 words

The Tail

  • Related Information
  • Links to other content, documents
  • Just a few items


Use them to break up long articles.

  • Simple and concise
  • Keyword-rich

Use Keywords

Page Title

Wellness Grants | UI Wellness


Wellness grants available to departments for healthy activities.

1 Paragraph = 1 idea

1 sentence paragraphs are OK!

Highlight keywords with formatting

Watch Out!

A cautionary tale of PDF proliferation and bad stock art.

A picture is worth a thousand words...

...unless it's of a smiling girl in a headset.


Use photos of real people, like your customers.

Icons, charts, and graphs work too.

PDFs are for Printing

Repeat. PDFs are for printing.

If you do use PDF

Warn people.

Summarize what's in it and how long it is.