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Writing for the Web

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

Grouping Content

"Chunking" for easier scanning

Following the principles of alignment and visual proximity, "chunking" means grouping your content into related units that are easier to scan and recall. The most basic example of chunking is separating the area code of a US phone number with parentheses: (123) 456-7890.

On the web, we chunk content by:

  • Using headings and subheadings to define distinct topics in an article of text.
  • Creating bulleted lists of related items rather than separating them with commas in a paragraph.
  • Pulling key phrases out of the text by setting them as a block quote
  • Surrounding distinct items with white space (empty space) to visually separate them

Even if your page contains only a few paragraphs, adding a subheading for the second or third paragraph will help your users decide whether they need to keep reading. It might make your page longer, but your users will be more likely to stay engaged!

Further Reading

Example of chunking a long article to enable scanning

Text from Wikipedia's page defining "Too long, didn't read": one without headlines and formatting (left), and one with (right). Which one is easier to find the three tips to reduce wordiness?

 Before  After
Column of indistinguishable gray blocks representing paragraphs. The same gray boxes but divided by headlines and bullets to make scanning easier.

Too long; didn't read

Too long; didn't read (abbreviated TL;DR and tl;dr) is a shorthand notation added by an editor indicating that a passage appears too long to invest the time to digest it.[3] Wikipedia:Wall of text is kindred.

The tl;dr label is often used to point out excessive verbosity or to signify the presence of and location of a short summary in case the reader doesn't want to take the time to read the entire detail, i.e. the article is too long and won't otherwise be read.[4] It can be misused as a tactic to thwart collaborative editing or a stoop to ridicule. If a discussion is reasonably concise, it is always best practice to read it before commenting.

Reasons for length

Many people edit Wikipedia because they enjoy writing; however, that passion can result in overlong composition. This reflects a lack of time or commitment to refine an effort through successively more concise drafts. With some application, natural redundancies and digressions can often be eliminated. Recall the venerable paraphrase of Pascal: "I made this so long because I did not have time to make it shorter."[1][2]

Also writers can incorrectly believe that long sentences and big words make that writer appear learned.[5] Some inexperienced contributors over-avoid leaving any ambiguity by using more words (see WP:NOTSTATUTE/GUIDE). Even capable authors recognize risk of distortion through brevity.[6]

Reducing wordiness

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. 

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer and aviator

Text should be trimmed if it contains redundancy.The article should be split into another article when appropriate. (See summary style and article spinoffs.) Be clear before excising copy that it can't be refined and kept. Tagging bloated plot summaries at movie, book, and play pages with the {{plot}} template is not as good as winnowing them yourself.

Some linguists (such as Geoffrey K. Pullum in posts at Language Log) criticize Strunk & White's advice "omit needless words" in the fear that unskilled editors may mistake even necessary length for dross and delete it. Strunk and White, however, were unambiguous that concision does not require "the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell." Deleting is not always equivalent to improving, and intelligently differentiating the cases deserves care.

Too long; didn't read

Too long; didn't read (abbreviated TL;DR and tl;dr) is a shorthand notation added by an editor indicating that a passage appears too long to invest the time to digest it.[3] Wikipedia:Wall of text is kindred.

The tl;dr label is often used to point out excessive verbosity or to signify the presence of and location of a short summary in case the reader doesn't want to take the time to read the entire detail, i.e. the article is too long and won't otherwise be read.[4] It can be misused as a tactic to thwart collaborative editing or a stoop to ridicule. If a discussion is reasonably concise, it is always best practice to read it before commenting.

Reasons for length

Lack of time

Many people edit Wikipedia because they enjoy writing; however, that passion can result in overlong composition. This reflects a lack of time or commitment to refine an effort through successively more concise drafts. With some application, natural redundancies and digressions can often be eliminated. Recall the venerable paraphrase of Pascal: "I made this so long because I did not have time to make it shorter."[1][2]

Attempting to appear more learned

Also writers can incorrectly believe that long sentences and big words make that writer appear learned.[5] Some inexperienced contributors over-avoid leaving any ambiguity by using more words (see WP:NOTSTATUTE/GUIDE). Even capable authors recognize risk of distortion through brevity.[6]

Reducing wordiness

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. 

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer and aviator

Tips for reducing wordiness:

  • Text should be trimmed if it contains redundancy.
  • The article should be split into another article when appropriate. (See summary style and article spinoffs.) 
  • Be clear before excising copy that it can't be refined and kept. Tagging bloated plot summaries at movie, book, and play pages with the {{plot}} template is not as good as winnowing them yourself.

Some linguists (such as Geoffrey K. Pullum in posts at Language Log) criticize Strunk & White's advice "omit needless words" in the fear that unskilled editors may mistake even necessary length for dross and delete it. Strunk and White, however, were unambiguous that concision does not require "the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell." Deleting is not always equivalent to improving, and intelligently differentiating the cases deserves care.