Writing for the web can be very different from writing for print. Visitors to your web pages won’t read text the same way they might read a flyer or brochure. Instead, they will analyze the text, identifying key words and phrases and try to assess the meaning of the content in the shortest possible time.
Imagine driving past a billboard at 60 mph in your car. You can only take in a limited amount of information and there is no time to mentally work out any complicated formulations. While the window of opportunity for a web page isn’t that narrow, you need to keep in mind that your readers may be rushing through your content rather than reading and digesting each carefully crafted word.
We have to adjust our writing style accordingly. We don’t want to confuse our readers by using words that are ambiguous, difficult to understand or hinder the clarity of the message or direct navigation.
With this in mind, we have listed below some words that you should avoid using as they reduce the readability of our content.
Formative/summative (usually used in regards to assessments)
Do you know what these words (which tend to appear on course web pages) actually mean? If you do, it is likely that you are a member of academic staff, responsible for setting and grading assignments. Put yourself in the shoes of the intended audience for these pages: high school students, who risk being baffled and even put off by such unfamiliar language. We need to use terms that our users will be familiar with, and that vocabulary suggests we haven’t considered our target audience enough. How would you describe the format of the assessment if you were having an in-person chat with a 16-year-old? It’s very different from how you would write a formal policy document. Most people overestimate the knowledge and vocabulary of even their professional audience and sometimes the slang is so ingrained that you forget you are using it.
This is another word that is often found on our course pages, but can make it sound like we want to send our students camping! For example: « You will be fully equipped to develop your career. » This word also tends to be used in the passive tense, which takes longer for the reader to parse (just microseconds, but it all adds up) and increases the word count of a sentence. In many cases, simply saying « you will learn » works better as it is more direct and proactive.
Innovative AND cutting edge
There are few university courses or departments that would not call themselves innovative and this is one of the most overused words we find on our web pages.
If something in your course is truly innovative, it should sell itself. It’s best to focus on particular features and more importantly the benefits they provide, rather than using filler adjectives like this. Instead of using these words, think along the lines of, « We supply X, so you can make Y. » Give your readers proof and let them decide.
Very, really, really, just, and similar adverbs
These add nothing to your page’s message, they simply reduce the readability of the text and add unnecessary clutter.
This sentence means nothing: it is the text that follows that is important. When readers scan the left side of the page, locating keywords, the phrase « note: deadline is July 1 » doesn’t jump out at the reader in the same way as « deadline: July 1. » Again, the phrase adds bulk to the page by reducing its meaning.
Since readers often scan text on our web pages, we need to make sure this process is as smooth as possible for them. Words like ex and second mean that a reader will have to jump back and forth through the text to understand it, which disrupts scanning and increases the time it takes to process the material.
Never use ‘click here’ when including a web link. The link text should describe what the reader will find by clicking on it. This makes it easier when someone scans the page. Example:
The client should be very happy, because they have been trained to walk away. He didn’t see any homers with either. Those who are reproached by the tacimata, who, when he turns away from him, the question is addressed to him. Through him the labors of salt, and the strength of bodies, and the strength of food. click here The customer should be very happy, because he has been trained to leave.
The client should be very happy, because they have been trained to walk away. He didn’t see any homers with either. Those who are reproached by the tacimata, who, when he turns away from him, the question is addressed to him. Through him the labors of salt, and the strength of bodies, and the strength of food. He please read our history courses.
Complicated words or phrases when there is a simpler alternative
Simplifying your text will make it easier for your readers to quickly understand what you mean. For example:
Facilitate → help
For → a
In case of → if
Because of → because
At this point in time → now
As soon as possible → quickly
Use → use
Website when you mean Web page
We have only one University website. If you are writing content for a department or center within the University, be sure to refer to this as a ‘webpage’ or ‘webpages’ rather than a separate ‘website’.
Words to use
Just before concluding this post, I would like to briefly mention a couple of words that I am to use when writing for the web. The English language is rich and powerful and there are many, many words to choose from, but the two most important words are
« You » and « We »
« You » is the most important word in the English language when it comes to writing content. It puts the reader right in the center of the action (avoiding the passive voice), can help simplify complex instructions, and conveys a friendlier tone. Choosing to use « we » and « you » also avoids the issue of gender-specific writing.
Do you have any opinion about it? Are there words you come across often that are your personal bugbears? Please comment and let us know.