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Writing for the web

We’ve just finished writing a copy style guide for a client which will help their web editors maintain the integrity of their copy. They have editors in several English-speaking territories around the world, and it’s vital that brand integrity is retained. This means consistency in the tone of voice, correct use of grammar and writing for the appropriate audience. We also created a German-speaking version of the document.

While the rules we’ve created are very specific to the company, we thought we’d include a few of the common highlights from our web writing guides here on our blog…

Think about the audience

  • Who are you talking to? Think about the role of each reader; their interest, their reading preferences.
  • What are you telling them? Think about what they should hear from you and what they need to know.
  • Why should they be interested? Get your USPs across and think about why they want to be on your website.

Focus on:

Style
Identify a common style to write in, considering plain language, whether you’re professional, relaxed or marketing-speak; consider how appropriate word play may be, particularly if your audience is international.

Engagement
Hook people with a good headline, strong subheadings and speaking to ‘you’ not ‘them’.

Online reading
Write for the screen not the page, and give the reader ‘quick hit’ information for those that scan read.

Context
Think of each page as a separate page, because people can access it via Google and may not see pages in the order you write them. Think about the purpose of each page first.

Inverted pyramid
Write in an inverted pyramid, putting the main points first, them supplementing the opening with facts and small paragraphs beneath.

Headings
Remember that headings guide the user but they also aid search engine optimisation. Keep them relevant.

Be brief
People are busy and will scan-read so keep sentences short, use bullets and get the message across quickly.

Have an aim
Do you want the reader to call, email or visit the high street? Decide what your aim is and make sure they’re signposted to relevant calls to action.

Of course, there’s much more to it than just these points. But they’re a great start to help you focus the mind. If you get stuck, give us a call.

Paul Barrett: Paul is a self-taught web developer and has been with Oxygen for 5 years. He has an unrivalled knowledge of PHP and open source web development.