IT Connect
Your connection to information technology at the UW

Writing and formatting for the web

How do users read on the web? They don’t. People rarely read web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. It is up to us as content producers to craft web content that conforms to how users will engage with it, and ensure that the content we are publishing can be understood by people visiting our websites.

Ensuring content is scannable will help our readers understand what information is on a page, determine if the page contains the information they seek, and create a better user experience for UW-IT’s customers. This page will go over ways you can create more scannable, easier to understand content.

  • Use plain language so that IT Connect visitors can easily understand the content of a page.
  • Write a high-level description at the top of the page that describes the tool or service you are writing about or lets the reader know the purpose of the page.
  • Use headings to break up content. A wall of text is unlikely to be read, and therefore, unlikely to be useful to users. Use headings to break content down into digestible sections.
  • Create meaningful headings. Use plain language, be direct and be concise. The heading should clearly describe the content of a section in as few words as possible.
  • One idea per paragraph. Users will likely only read the first few words of a paragraph to determine if it’s the information they seek, and if it isn’t, then they move on to the next paragraph.
  • Use bulleted lists and formatting to make content scannable. Bulleted lists are easily scanned and help users parse information.
  • Halve the word count. Use half the number of words that you would use in conventional writing. Make it as concise as possible without changing or losing meaning.

Use plain, jargon-free, non-colloquial language

Using clear, concise and direct language (known as plain language) is important for IT Connect visitors to be able to understand the content of a page. Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Plain language:

  • Uses active voice, not passive
  • Uses short sentences and paragraphs
  • Is composed of common, everyday words
  • Is organized using easy to follow design features like headers, lists and tables.
  • Avoids jargon, colloquial language, and technical language

Jargon and technical language in particular can be hard to avoid on a website like IT Connect, which exists to describe technology and technical concepts to our users. While it might not always be possible to avoid jargon or technical language, their use should be limited, or at least the concepts should be described using plain language too.

If the audience of your page should be technically adept and familiar with the terms you use, at the very least you should describe the intent of the page at the top using language all visitors can understand, so they can determine if the page contains information they need.

Break up content with meaningful headers

Write meaningful headers that clearly and concisely describe their content, and properly nest headers for both usability and accessibility. Headers allow readers to navigate and scan content.

Headers should:

  • Be short and direct
  • Be able to stand on their own and understood out of context
  • Avoid jargon, abbreviations, cleverness, and technical terms

On IT Connect, the page title is an H1, and it should be the only instance of an H1 on the page. When creating sections in IT Connect content, start with an H2. Subsections within that H2 should use an H3, and if necessary, subsections with that H3 should use an H4.

Never skip headings because you like the visual appearance of a different level heading. The primary purposes of headings are navigational and designating content hierarchy.

Use formatting to break up pages

You can use formatting to break your content into blocks and make it easier to scan. Formatting can help make each section of content easier to parse, and help users navigate through the page. Examples of formatting include:

Write for search engines

We know through user research that the majority of visitors to IT Connect find the content they want through search engines like Google, Bing or by using IT Connect’s search functionality. This means that it’s vital that you optimize the content you include on IT Connect for search engines.

Here are some tips to optimize your content:

  • Use the same language as your users: Write in plain, direct language. Avoid jargon or complex words that the audience for your content isn’t likely to naturally type into a search bar. A simple rule of thumb: write conversationally, in the way that people speak.
  • Use keywords: In addition to writing in plain language, use words throughout your content that are keywords for the topic. Many times a search engine will consider the relevance of a word in part by how many times it is used, so don’t be afraid to repeat keywords in your content.
  • Use IT Connect’s tag functionality: Brainstorm 3 or more of the most relevant keywords for a page, and use the tag functionality and add the keywords as tags. This gives those words increased weight in the IT Connect search functionality, and also adds the words as meta-keywords for external search engines. Tags can identify content using general or broad terms users might search for, such as “email” or “calendar”, but also using terms specific to services, such as “Gmail” or “Exchange Online.”
  • Write a custom search result snippet: By default, IT Connect’s search functionality grabs the first couple of sentences from your page to display as a description of the page in search results. Using a custom snippet, you can write a concise description of the page to be displayed in the search results instead. This description is also added as a meta-description for the page, which may be used by external search engines.

 

Last reviewed November 8, 2021