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Writing for the Web

Writing content that is accessible, optimized for search, and otherwise informative and easy to read.

Using Hierarchy in Your Writing

Here are some best practices you can use when writing content for the web:

Inverted pyramid with the words "Need to Know" at the top, an arrow pointing down, and the words "Nice to know" at the bottom.Put the most important information first

First define the five w's: who, what, where, when, and why, and focus on the details after. This is referred to as the inverted pyramid. When writing for the Libraries' website, use this outline as a model:

  1. Write a short headline that clearly defines the page's purpose or topic.
  2. Provide context for the information the page provides - a sentence or two defining the service the library provides and that answers the five w's.
  3. Provide the call to action - a button or link to a form, a registration link, or the next page in a process. 
  4. For very long articles, you may want to provide a bulleted list of the keypoints next. This will let users know what to expect and whether it's worth their time to continue reading.
  5. Reveal detail as needed - Include additional details using clear, descriptive headings followed by short, concise paragraphs (chunk it!). Order these sections logically as well - try to anticipate what your audience's next question may be. Putting a contact email or phone number at the end is a common convention. It serves as a fallback in case the page doesn't answer all of your user's questions. Using the course reserves example, this could include sections in the following order:
    1. Deadlines for submitting reserves.
    2. Where students can find reserves.
    3. Copyright considerations.
    4. Who to contact for help.

Use headlines

Break up rows of paragraphs with headings and subheadings. The larger size will help readers scan for information relevant to them. Headings also improve the accessibility of your content as well as its search engine score.

Use bulleted or numbered lists

To highlight important links, steps in a process, or pages to explore next, use a list. Their shorter length and indentation provide contrast against the longer lines of text in the paragraphs that surround them. Links are much easier to scan when in a list. 

Begin with the objective when creating lists. This makes it easier to scan each point. The bullets above for "Put the most important information first" is an example of putting the goal of an action first. It makes it easier to bold or put hyperlinks on the first couple of words and not interrupt the visual flow of each line.

Combine color with another element

Always use color with another element like scale or contrast. Using color alone may obscure content or make your hierarchy fail for users who are colorblind.

Start a new page

When you have a lot of content, sometimes you just need to reset the page hierarchy and start a new page so your message doesn't get lost at the bottom. You may want to present one topic on each page. Users can use the website's menu to jump to the page most relevant to them.

Further Reading