The confinement, due to the coronavirus, has caused the internet to reach record levels of traffic. It is a situation where you write and read more than ever on the web. When we read online, we want to access the specific information in which we are interested quickly. But what we find are usually too long or literary texts, not adapted to the medium.
On the internet and a screen, the reader’s attention is scattered and the efficiency and compression are lower. Reading speed decreases by 25%. In practice, users only read about 20% of the text on each page. And from what they read, they only assimilate 28%.
80% of users “scan” the page for visual clues to find content quickly. When the content, that is, the text we read, is of quality, that website not only achieves a good search engine ranking ( SEO: Search Engine Optimization ), but generates trust, satisfaction, and therefore, the loyalty of the reader.
How to write online
Writing for the web is different from traditional print writing; it has its own rules. The main objective is to provide users with specific, concise and readable information. Users expect this information to be easy to find, access and understand, as well as being accurate, up-to-date and credible. The goal is to make content useful, working, and enjoyable.
These objectives are achieved by applying only two golden rules:
- Make the text concise.
- Make the text scannable.
A concise, clear and direct text
What does it mean to make the text concise? In the first place, the text should be brief, so that the effort that the reader must make to understand it is minimal. It could be translated as making the texts “as long as necessary” but “as short as possible.” All of this can be done by applying ten good practices:
- Connect with the public and capture the attention of the potential audience of the website. Knowing the audience is essential. Keep your attention with a narrative that engages by applying these basic principles (2-4):
- Inverted pyramid. This principle comes from the news in the press: present the most important information at the beginning and structure the story in order from most to least.
- The six basic questions. Every story should answer: WHAT happened ?, WHO participated ?, WHEN did it happen ?, WHERE did it happen ?, WHY did it happen? and HOW did it happen ?. Translated into the business world, what product is it? What is it made of? Why should you buy it? How does it work, or what is it for? When and where can I get it?
- Highlight the facts. Avoid subjective text. Show results, case studies, statistics, user reviews that are representative or reputable, and live demos.
Aristotle has already said about rhetoric and persuasion: to maintain credibility with the audience ( ethos ), it is important to offer a balance between its logical ( logos ) and emotional ( pathos ) arguments. Certain rhetoric is useful, but it must always be grounded in truth. The deceptions take their toll and are hard to forget. The ability to persuade manages to capture attention and attract new users, but loyalty or permanence can only be achieved with useful content.
- Use simple sentences and simple grammar structures, 15-20 words, to present ideas in a simple, clear, and direct way.
- Use the most common word or the one with the fewest letters, when you have several synonymous word options.
- Eliminate jargon, acronyms and “dark” words whenever you can, especially if the target audience is not an expert in that field.
- Use simple, active, and clear language. For example: instead of: “It is important to take into consideration X because otherwise it will not work …”, it is better to say: “For it to work, consider …”.
- Avoid subjective descriptions, and delete the instruction text. No one reads them. If necessary, leave only the essential and basic ones. Just the opposite of wordy but unintelligible reports from politicians.
- Use free time expressions, with day and time. The information remains indefinitely on the web and can be consulted at any place and time. Avoid relative expressions like “a little while ago,” “in a few moments,” “last month,” etc. They are ambiguous and meaningless without the exact temporal context.
A scannable text
What does it mean to make text scannable? The text must be edited and layout so that users can easily find the content they are interested in. Users enter a digital medium with a specific objective or interest. To facilitate the tour or exploration of a web page:
- Divide the text into short paragraphs with just a few lines, no more than 3-5 lines of 40-70 words. Of course, this recommendation is on average: if any piece is longer, nothing happens. On the web, a phrase is an excellent paragraph.
- Convey the main idea in each of the micro-paragraphs (or phrase). Paragraphs visually highlight blocks of text. Each paragraph looks like a different object; there is a tendency to assume that each new paragraph offers a different theme.
- Begin each paragraph with the most relevant and useful information. Slow introductions work well on paper, but users are impatient on the web, they want the topic now, the real, concrete idea.
- Use titles and subtitles to divide the text into themes. The dense text generates rejection in the user. This breaks the uniformity of the text while structuring it. The titles should be a phrase that tells the reader what you will find in the paragraphs that follow. But it should not be abused; it is better not to overcome a subdivision of more than three levels. That is, there can be a chapter 1 and a chapter 2, and a subchapter 1.1, 1.2 or 2.1 and 2.2, but not exceed a subchapter 1.1.1.
- Highlight the most important sentences or words to draw attention to basic ideas. In bold, but never in italics me or underlined. The italicized, and tipping the text is not very legible. It should be reserved only for titles of bibliographic references, voices in other languages, foreign names, or concise citations. If the quote has more text, it is better to present it in quotation marks. The underline is completely discouraged. Visually it is confused with a web link, and, also, it makes some letters unreadable (‘j,’ ‘g’ and ‘y’).
- Use bulleted or numbered lists to list features, properties, steps in a procedure, or rules. Lists create chunks of content that allow for non-linear reading. They separate and structure ideas and make searching or scanning/scanning easy. They also allow you to count the number of important things. As a general rule, the lists should go with moles. Use numbers only when order matters.
- Limit the number of elements in the lists to 7, much better if they are 5 (as you see, we do not preach with the example). Short-term memory (working memory or working memory ), which is the ability to keep a small amount of information in mind actively, is limited to 7 ± two items.
- Use numbers instead of number names, making reading on the screen easier. Figures of up to four digits are easily read and understood.
- Do not use large numbers with too many zeros; they create confusion and are difficult to interpret. It is clearer to indicate the number first and then the words thousands, millions, billions and billions to replace 3-6-9-12 zeros.
- Use Roman numerals only to indicate the order of popes, kings, and century numbers. Roman numerals are formed from letters and it is difficult first to determine what a number is and then calculate the number.
Web text must be easy to understand, concise, scannable. You should not leave any uncertainty in the reader’s mind at the first and fastest reading. Of course, these rules are a generalization to apply, especially in informative texts. On the internet, some contents allow greater flexibility. But it should always be taken into account.