Write for On-Screen Reading

Visitors rarely read webpages word by word. They scan and jump until they find what they want.

Help them out by writing for on-screen reading:

  • Use meaningful subheadings to help readers find the content they want and to highlight key phrases and words.

  • Use links (quicklinks for any content that resides on the CMS) to provide background information and (again) highlight key phrases and words.

  • Have one idea per paragraph. As in a newspaper, one-sentence paragraphs are perfectly legitimate on the Web.

  • Use bulleted lists to pull out key ideas.

  • Use an inverted pyramid style of writing, starting with your conclusion.

  • Use fewer words.

If these guidelines strike you as “writing for dummies,” think again. The users who are most likely to scan and jump are the more literate ones. It is the lower-literacy users who tend to read word for word. Writing for the Web is about making your writing easier to read and use, not dumbing down your ideas.

Also keep in mind that, sitewide, we follow the Chicago Manual of Style, along with IUP university style.

For more advice on writing for on-screen reading, Jakob Nielsen's page on Writing for the Web is a great place to start.