Skip to main contentSkip to section navigation
Web Style Guide

Online style

For most Web writing you should assume that your carefully crafted prose will not be read word by word. This is not the case, of course, for texts such as journal articles or teaching materials: in many cases these more complicated texts will be printed and read offline. But most online information is best presented using short segments of texts written in a clear, concise style and with ample use of editorial landmarks.

Prose style

Our writing style example below explains the steps involved in creating a successful Web site. The first style is vague and verbose. The second is concise: we simply list the facts. It is this second writing style that is most suitable for Web documents. Most Web readers are looking for information, and they find it not by reading a Web page word by word but rather by scanning the page for relevant items.

Vague and verbose. You must read every word in this paragraph in order to understand the steps involved in creating Web sites:

Web site development is a complex process that involves many steps and tasks that range from budgeting to design and evaluation. First, you need to define the scope of your project and determine a budget for site development. Then you need to survey and map the structure of your information. The next step is to establish a look and feel for your site, and then comes the actual construction of your site. Once your site is finished you need to make sure people know that it's there and how to find it. Finally, you should spend time evaluating your site's effectiveness. As you embark on the process of developing a Web site, keep these steps in mind and make sure that you have the organizational backing, budget, and personnel you need to make the project a success.

Concise and factual. In this version, we turned the wordy explanation of the process into a concise list of steps to follow:

The process of developing a Web site generally follows these steps:
  1. Site definition and budgeting
  2. Information architecture
  3. Site design
  4. Site construction
  5. Site marketing
  6. Tracking and evaluation
Before beginning to develop a Web site, make sure you have the organizational backing, budget, and personnel you need to perform these steps successfully.

Other stylistic considerations

  • Be frugal. Make sure that the text you present is worth something to the reader. Avoid empty chatter like welcome text or instructions on how to use the site. Users should be able to determine who you are by your navigation and page design, and your interface should be clear enough that it doesn't require instructions. Don't use the first paragraph of each page to tell users what information they'll find there. Instead, start with the information, written in the concise and factual prose style shown above.
  • Stick to the point. Write in easily understood sentences. Steer clear of clever headings and catchy but meaningless phrases that users must think about and explore further to understand.
  • Cultivate a voice. Web readers welcome a measure of individuality from their information sources. With so many competing sources, a unique voice may help distinguish your pages, but beware of going "over the top." When it comes to attitude, there is a fine line between engaging and annoying.
  • Think globally. Remember that you are designing documents for the World Wide Web and that your audience may not understand conventions specific to your little corner of the world. For example, when including dates, use the international date format of day / month / year (e.g., 14 March 2001). Also, avoid metaphors and puns that may make sense only in the context of your language and culture.