Web writing: back to basics

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As one of three web content editors at Jisc, much of my time is spent editing raw content into something clear, helpful and engaging. At least I hope so!

Training our subject specialists

Jisc has a brilliant team of subject specialists who, despite their busy roles, have been working with us to update our quick guides.

The total number of guides on the site is only going to grow, so a few weeks ago we asked the lovely Christine Cawthorne from Crocstar (who has trained content producers at Government Digital Service) to give the subject specialists a brief introduction to the things they should consider when writing for the website.

Why writing for the web is different

If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the converted. But sometimes you have to go back to basics.

It’s well-documented that people read web pages differently from print and are more likely to scan to find what they need, often reading less than 30% of a page. Helping people scan content without interruption is one of the reasons we favour sentence case over title case (we also think it makes everything feel a little less formal…)

Here are a few simple ways you can help transform your content:

  • Put the most important information first
  • Use meaningful headings
  • Write as you would speak: use plain English and cut the jargon
  • Keep sentences short and concise, wherever possible
  • Avoid long paragraphs
  • Use bulleted lists where appropriate

Even Google is a fan. They agree that writing clearly is good for search engine optimisation.

Writing for the web – for everyone

Being able to structure your content and write clearly for the web isn’t just for use in guides or features. It’s a helpful skill for anyone who wants to communicate something: writing a job advert, blogging about an event, even generating interest in that sofa you’re trying to sell on Gumtree!

One of the tools Christine shared was Hemingway Editor: great for cutting the waffle. There’s also some excellent guidance on gov.uk which dives into more detail.

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