Plain Language Web Writing Tips

On the web, people are in a hurry. They skim and scan, looking for fast answers to their questions, so it’s important to get to the point—quickly!

Help your readers complete their tasks with these Plain Language writing tips:

AudienceWrite for your reader. Don’t write for the experts, the lawyers, or your management, unless they are your intended audience.
LengthLess is more! Be concise. Eliminate ALL unnecessary words. Challenge every word = do you need it?
ToneUse conversational pronouns (you, us, our, we). Write as if you were talking to a colleague or friend. Use contractions (we’re instead of we are).
VoiceUse active voice with strong verbs. Say “We mailed your form on May 1” instead of “Your form was mailed by us on May 1.”
Word ChoiceUse the same words your readers use when they search for your info on the Web. Avoid acronyms and jargon.
SimplifyUse simple, descriptive section headings; short paragraphs; and ordinary, familiar words.
LinksNever use “click here”—link language should describe what your reader will get if they click that link. Include key words to help search engines.
OrganizationPut the most important information first, followed by the details.
Improve TasksOrganize content around your customers’ tasks, not your organization. Highlight action items (step 1, step 2, etc.).
ScannabilitySeparate content into small chunks. Use lots of white space for easy scanning. In general, write no more than 5-7 lines per paragraph. Use lists and bullets, they are easy to scan.
Separate TopicsPresent each topic separately. Keep the information on each page to three (or fewer) levels.
ContextDon’t assume your readers already know the subject or have read related pages. Each page should stand on its own. Put everything in context.
Test and EvaluateTest Web pages with actual customers so you can be sure real people can understand what you write.
TrainEncourage all your colleagues (lawyers, accountants, researchers, etc.) to use plain language—because all content is potentially Web content.
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