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MIT Libraries Staff Web

Writing for the Web: Guidelines for MIT Libraries: Home

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What's in it for me?

You may be a great writer, but creating content for the web requires a different knack than writing for other mediums. How can you improve the chances that people will actually read what you write?  

This guide gives best practices, tips, and tricks that will help increase readership and improve usability of your web pages.

How do people read on the web?

Web users:

  • skim, scan, and select
    • browse
    • forage
  • quick glances and occasional very brief stops
  • read a little at a time
    • mostly in short burst
    • grab and get on towards the goal

Do users ever read whole passages on the web?

Yes, but only when --

  • they are highly motivated to get the information.
  • the goal is to get extended information, like a report.

Layer the details

  • Put brief info on a higher level.
  • Link to details on a deeper level.

Less is more!

Include only what users want and need.
  • How?
    • Cut! Cut! Cut! Find the essence.
    • Put it away for a day or two.
    • Look it over and cut again.
  • With each sentence, ask: Do users want or need that?
  • Then ask: Do they really want or need that?

Chunk the content

  • Chunk = manageable bit
  • Don't write prose.
  • Keep sentences to one or two points.
  • Keep paragraphs short. A one sentence paragraph is OK.
  • Use lists.
  • Use fragments and phrases.
  • Use pictures and other visual elements.