Writing for the Web

You can grab readers and search results with your writing—or lose them for lack of it.

Before you sit down and attempt to craft the perfect words for your website, think for a moment about how you read highway signs as you cruise up Interstate 5 to Portland. If you don’t follow some fundamentals for writing for the web, visitors to your site may pay about the same attention to your second paragraph—or even your second sentence—that you pay to the blue-and-white sign telling you that there are Newport Bay and McDonald’s restaurants at the Kuebler Road exit in Salem. Unless you’re in Salem and in the mood for a big mac or halibut filet, you cruise right past. The same thing might happen if you don’t grab a visitor’s interest.

Research shows that more readers than ever, and especially intellectual ones, skim through articles on the web at a pace much faster than they can actually read it. You have mere seconds to capture their attention before they bounce off to another page.

Sound daunting? Don’t be discouraged. You just need to carefully craft your message for the web. Follow a few simple rules and you can slow people down long enough to hold their attention, or better yet, convince them to pull in for more information.

  • Think bullet points
  • Think quick
  • Use keywords in your first sentence and last paragraph
  • Keep copy in the neighborhood of 250– 300 words
  • Think concise
  • Don’t sacrifice accuracy
  • Think simple, easy-to-understand sentences in active voice
  • Think multimedia, video, audio—they’re easier than you might think—or even a simple photo, as long it tells a story.

You must be compelling and correct and offer links to take visitors deeper into your site and your information. The further they go, the more detail you can offer them. Proofread carefully. Just because you can make corrections on the web doesn’t mean you should plan on it.

Professionals on the Web Communications team are here to help. While only you might be able to craft the exact message you need, we can help with trimming down your text, targeting readers with tone, and keeping the writing lively.

Editorial Style

Prepare text for your website in accordance with the “Grammar and Style Guide,” The Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003); and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition (online version). These are the same references that guide style for printed UO publications. In only limited circumstances—such as in news stories prepared by Media Relations according to The Associated Press Stylebook—should text follow any other style.

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