A-Z of better web writing

2 Comments Written on January 28th, 2013 by
Categories: Accessibility, Articles, Usability

If you want to write better web content, here’s a whole alphabet full of ideas that should help. It covers attributes of quality content and issues you should be aware of as a web writer.


A – Abbreviations

You use abbreviations with care. Acronyms and other types of abbreviations are convenient if we all know them. They make speaking and writing faster. But if your users aren’t familiar with them, they make reading and understanding slower.

B – Beginnings

Your beginnings deliver the information your users want. You structure your content so it starts with the most important, useful information. And you take the same approach with paragraphs and sentences. You never try to make users read everything. You always put their information needs first.

C – Conciseness

You write concisely. You include all the detail a user might need, but you waste no words in doing so.

D – Direct links

Your links take users directly to the named resource. You never dump users on the home page of another website and expect them to find their own way. You know their time is limited.  And you take the time needed to maintain these links.

E – Egoless

Your content is written to inform, not impress. You always write for your users—not for yourself or your manager.

F – Findable

You write accurate and meaningful titles to help people find and recognise your content in search results, social media links, their browser history, tabs and bookmarks. You provide useful meta descriptions. You use file and folder names that are meaningful. You use the right keywords.

G – Gobbledygook

You never use gobbledygook (or ‘weasel words’, as Australian writer Don Watson calls it). You don’t try to sound impressive or hide what’s really going on. You’re clear and direct.

H – Headings

Your headings break up and label your content. They reveal its structure, using appropriate heading level tags (h1, h2 and so on).

I – Images

Your images are usable and accessible. They help users understand your content. You don’t rely on colour to convey meaning, but supplement it with labels, patterns or textures. You choose images with strong colour contrast. You avoid images of text. And you include text alternatives.

J – Jargon and idioms

You avoid jargon and non-literal phrases that may make your content more difficult for some. Instead, you use words and phrases your users will understand.

K – Keywords

You know the words your users search with. You use them as your topic terms, rather than using internal language.  You don’t overuse them though. You know that keyword density can make your content sound unnatural, and isn’t going to help you get better search rankings. And you know it’s pointless writing keyword metadata for public search engines.

L – Link text

You label your links clearly, so users know where a link will lead them. You never use ‘click here’, ‘read more’, ‘this website’ or other uninformative labels for links. You also let users know when a link will open a document.

M – Meta descriptions

Your web pages have meta descriptions that accurately summarise or describe their content. The descriptions are concise—not more than 160 characters—and unique.

N – Noun strings

You never use noun strings—a series of 3 or more nouns strung together. You rewrite sentences that do.

O – Optimised images

You always use images that are optimised for the web. You make sure they’re cropped to show the relevant detail, resized to fit the appropriate space on screen, and saved in the right format.

P – Planned

You always plan before you start writing. You identify your target audiences and consider their information needs. You get all the information you need by talking with your colleagues and anyone who might contribute to, review or approve your content.

Q – Quality standards and guidelines

Your content meets relevant quality standards. You know your editorial and web style guides well. You’re familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

R – Readable

Your content is easy to read. You use short, everyday words. You avoid long sentences. You use the active voice and the present tense whenever possible. You avoid noun strings and nominalised verbs. You use personal pronouns.

S – Scannable

Your content is easy to scan. You lead with the most important information. Your headings act as signposts, and start with the most informative words. You keep paragraphs short and focused on a single topic. You use dot points where appropriate, keeping each point short. You don’t clutter the page with loads of links. Instead you carefully choose and position the links.

T – Text alternatives

Your images use an appropriate text alternative. You know when to use a long text alternative and when to use a blank one. You never repeat a caption as the text alternative, but write something shorter instead.

U – Useful

You publish useful content. You don’t publish content because you have it, or because you can—you always identify a need first. And you check to make sure you’re not duplicating content already on your site. You maintain your content and remove pages no longer useful.

V – Verbs, not nouns

You use verbs rather than turning them into nouns (nominalisations). You check your drafts to look for common signs of nominalised verbs:

  • Nouns with these endings: -ion, -ing, -al, -ment, -ance or -dom
  • Verbs often used nearby: give, make, undertake, take, achieve, effect, have.

W – Word and PDF documents

You rarely publish Word or PDF documents online. You only do it when people need to print or redistribute the content. You never do it because because it’s faster or easier for you.

X – X-channel (cross channel)

Your content always considers where users have come from to reach it. It doesn’t repeat what they’ve already seen. You liaise with your colleagues who handle communications in print or social media, so users are referred to the right page, the relevant information, the next step.

Y – You and other personal pronouns

You use  ‘you’ and ‘your’ when referring to your users. And you’re not afraid of using ‘we’ and ‘our’ when referring to your organisation.

Z – Zzz (sleep)

You put some distance between writing your draft and reviewing it.  You always wait at least overnight, and longer when web publishing deadlines allow.

Related information

Many of our articles offer more depth on some of these topics. See:

You might also consider our web writing course—completely rewritten and updated for 2013.

I was inspired write this by an article with a similar approach:A-Z of better writing. And I pinched a couple of the terms it used (Beginning, Jargon, Zzz), but they are discussed here with reference to web writing.

2 comments “A-Z of better web writing”

What a great check-list Dey!
Many thanks for developing and sharing.

Great list! I especially liked the references to accessibility. I seldom see general articles about writing or designing for the Web that consider accessibility. Thanks for posting!