Writing for the web

There is a difference between how we communicate in a printed context and the online experience. They are different mediums with very different ways of communicating information.

We need to make sure information is easily and quickly accessible to everyone. The web has a huge range of users with a lot of different needs so we need to consider that when we write, structure and organise content for the web.

Accessibility and usability

A website should be easy to use, intuitive and allow people to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. If a user spends more than a few seconds trying to find what they are looking for, chances are they will leave before they get there.

It's easy to forget about who uses a website - not everyone will find things in the same way. You have to think about every potential user.

Content must be easy to navigate

Don't make the user spend ages trying to find out what they want to know. If they are looking for a service you provide, make it as straightforward and as clear as possible in your content.

Use text that can be easily scanned

Organise your text in a way the user can pick up essential points at a glance. Break up the text with short paragraphs, use bullet points for lists and make use of descriptive headings and links.

Correct use of images

Images should not distract the user from the content on your page, they must only be used to enhance your written content.

Some visually-impaired users may use assistive technology to read text on web page. Text in an image can't be read, so either avoid doing this or make sure an explanation of the image is included in the alt text or in the body of your text.

How users read web content

When we read online we use a mixture of skimming and scanning skills to find the information we're looking for. 

Skim reading

Typically, to read online content we will:

  • quickly skim read the content for gist
  • find what we're looking for via headings and links
  • make sense of the content by reading the first sentence in the paragraph.

Users start in the top left-hand corner of the text and then scan horizontally and vertically in an F shape to read the content.

To help us skim read we rely on differences in word shapes to read the text. Capital letters make reading online slower and should be avoided where possible, this is also Essex house style. Short paragraph and sentence length is important to a web user as it helps them skim read a piece of text online.


Scanning is another skill that we use when reading a web page. It differs from skimming in that you do not deal with all of the content. Users will be:

  • searching for a specific purpose
  • searching for a word, phrase or reference
  • finding the answer to a question
  • completing a task.

We use a mixture of skimming and scanning to read content online.

Structuring your content

Writing for print (linear style)

Traditionally, printed text starts at the beginning and finishes at the end, such as a book or an essay. There is a logical sequence to writing and the reader is led by the author through the material. This style of linear writing doesn't work online as the way we read online is very different.

Writing for the web (non-linear style)

On websites we generate our own experience by scanning pages, headings, bullets, paragraphs and links to find the information we are looking for, we don't read word for word.

Web content is organised differently in a non-linear style, this is also known as the 'inverted pyramid style': the main points, explanation, details.

Structuring your writing

Starting with the main points gives the reader the most important information first, then some further explanation about the content and finally any non-essential details. This means that even if you don't read everything on the page, you will at least have gained the key information.

When writing for the web, it's important not to make users work hard to find what they're looking for. Effective web content is short, concise and well-structured - remember that the majority of people who read a web page only absorb three quarters of the content, at the most.

FAQs - why we don't use them

FAQs are a popular way of providing information. They're easy for content writers to produce as they're often simply a list of everything that users might need to know. 

Unfortunately, that approach is bad for users for a number of reasons:

  • they're not easy to scan read, especially when the questions are long 
  • they require the user to read a long list of questions to get to the answer they need
  • they're often lists of unrelated topics and sometimes they duplicate answers
  • FAQs are often what is assumed to be frequently asked questions, rather than based on actual user data

Instead content needs to be based on what your users need to know. It needs to be well structured under a series of short headings (and sub-headings if needed).

Read more about FAQs

Writing effective web content

Well-written and organised content addresses the needs of your audience by providing them with the information they want, in a format they wish to see it. It also creates a vital good first impression on your visitors. To do this involves knowing and understanding your audience and what type of information they're looking for.

Know who you are writing for

Think about who specifically you're trying to reach. You may say - students. But which students do you mean? Prospective students? International students? Returning current students? Students at the Southend Campus? Knowing who you are writing for will help keep your content focused and to the point.

Define your visitors' tasks and give them what they want

Know why the reader has come to your page and what they will want to do there. Provide the information the reader is looking for and do not be tempted to write more than is necessary, your reader is unlikely to read it and it will get in their way.

Make it compelling

Consider in detail what you want to tell users and how you can relate to them in a way that will interest and engage them.

Strong, compelling content:

  • helps the reader feel that you can relate to their needs
  • creates a feeling of trustworthiness and credibility to your site
  • tells the readers who you are and what you do, but more importantly it tells them why they should care about what you have to say and how it will help them.

Organise your content

Organise your content carefully so that readers can find what they're looking for quickly and easily, by using:

  • well-structured content
  • put the most important information

  • clear, descriptive headings

  • short sentences and paragraphs
  • bullet points for lists of items.
  • keep it short

It's important to stress that shorter, concise content generally works much more effectively. Remember, your users will want to get to what they need quickly. They won't read your content, they will scan. As a rule of thumb, only write one idea per paragraph and keep sentences short.

Tone of voice

Bringing our University's brand to life through the language we use in our writing is just as important as our visual identity. In order to communicate our messages with one voice, in a clear and consistent way that truly reflects who we are, there are some key principles to bear in mind.

Writing for web training

Based on an original LinkedIn Learning course, our Writing for Web at Essex playlist provides guidance on how you can write effective web content and improve our website users' experience.

All staff and students are welcome to access this course.

Getting started

If you've never logged into LinkedIn Learning before

LinkedIn Learning will ask you to activate your LinkedIn Learning account. You’ll be asked whether you wish to link to your personal LinkedIn account, if you have one. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to – just select ‘Continue without connecting to my LinkedIn account’.

You’ll then see some introductory pages designed to show you what’s available in LinkedIn Learning. If you select the ‘Home’ tab at the top of the page, you’ll see the ‘Writing for web at Essex’ learning path where you can start the course.

If you've logged into LinkedIn Learning previously

Log into LinkedIn Learning and you’ll see the Writing for Web at Essex learning path. Just select ‘Start Learning Path’ to begin.

Becoming a web author

In order to maintain quality and consistency across the website, we regulate the number of people who edit the website. If you think you need to have access to edit the website and would like to receive web author training, please contact wedm@essex.ac.uk.

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Contact us
Web Editing and Digital Media
Telephone: 01206 873410