Words are important. Save for a very few cases, a web page without words is fairly useless. Without words, search engines wouldn’t even bat an eyelash at you from across the room. Words are the most important part of a web page. This article explores writing on the web, and its role in information architecture. Additional parts of this series will focus on navigation, layout, and design.
A common misconception in writing for the web is that it’s somehow different from writing for a newspaper, magazine, or any other publication. People do, in fact, read full-length articles on the screen. Some people even pay money for the privilege. There is no sense in compromising your writing for the medium. If you need several hundred words to clarify your point, do so. It is better to be precise than it is to obfuscate your message through unnecessary abstraction.
When writing on any topic, consistency is key. If you frame your topic in the beginning of the article, your audience will have a better understanding of what to expect as they continue reading. Another way to be consistent is to maintain a style. For those who may be unfamiliar with a style guide, it is a document that outlines the rules of writing. Style guides include topics on grammar, punctuation, capitalization and situation-specific rules. There are a number of style guides available, but the two I consult most often are The Chicago Manual of Style, and the conveniently available NASA Style Guide. I also find the style guide from The Economist to be useful when translating my writing to or from a British audience. I often tell clients to create their own style guide from an existing one in order to attain a consistent and unique voice.
The next time you find yourself at the keyboard trying to add content to your website, consider the ideas in this article. You will soon find yourself writing in a more clear and consistent fashion that benefits your audience.
Later: The MovableType 3 Fiasco