Writing for the web: The Basics

Written by | December 29, 2014 | Posted in Process

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an Interface Writing workshop. Hosted by the Triangle chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) and led by writer-editor-strategist, Nicole Fenton, the workshop covered everything from the fundamentals of writing, to best practices for user flows, online forms, navigation labels, and more. I can (and I probably will – stay tuned!) pick apart and expand on each of the points we covered in the workshop, but for now, I think it’s best to start with the basics.

First things first, is understanding Nicole’s point that
“Writers [and all web professionals for that matter], have a huge responsibility to our users and the businesses we work for.”  

In writing for the web – whether it’s a blog post, ad banner, contact form, navigation bar or website copy, you’re working to successfully meet two very important goals, which aren’t always exactly aligned with one another:

1 – The goal of the business
Businesses work hard to create products and services, and they want to communicate all the things that make those products and services great, in a way that yields an increase in brand awareness, quality leads, customer loyalty and of course, revenue.

2 – The goal of the end-user
End-users (meaning customers, clients, etc) are looking to find things to satisfy their wants and needs. In the process of finding those things, they look to access information to help compare their options, and to figure out how valuable each of those options really is.

When writing for the web, you have the responsibility of putting in place messaging that explains the great things a business has worked to create in a way that communicates the value that end users need to make their purchasing decisions. You also have the responsibility of making sure that messaging and all that supports it is easily accessible. And that all has to be done using words that make the most sense for all parties involved, and as Nicole stated so simply, yet eloquently,  “The words we choose matter.”

Writing is an art form that should be executed with thoughtfulness and purpose. That’s even truer when writing on behalf of a business. The goals I mentioned above should remain a driving factor in all the words you use. And no matter which words you happen to choose,  Nicole listed a few things that all writing should have in common:

Your writing should be Clear

When users are reading your content on the web, they don’t have the luxury of pulling you to the side to ask your for clarification on things. Writing for the web requires clarity that not only conveys meaning, but that also guides the user to the exact action that should be taken.

Your writing should be Friendly

Many people view reading on the web as a chore. Unless they are viewing something for pure pleasure, the act of completing forms, downloading documents and sifting through information to unveil nuggets of information is not one the most enjoyable things in life. Maintaining a friendly tone throughout helps keep the reader engaged, and the task easier to get through.

Your writing should be Useful

This one is pretty straightforward – your users are coming to your website for a reason. Make sure your writing serves that reason. That reason should take priority over fluff and everything else.

Your writing should be Honest

Honest writing is two-fold. First it means honestly communicating the message you’re trying to convey. It means leaving out the ambiguity and telling the reader exactly what’s going to happen when they do something, what you offer, what they’re getting, what they’re doing or what you want them to do. Secondly, honest writing means staying true to your brand, its voice and the standards that have been set in place.

Your writing should be Appropriate

The content you write on the web should be appropriate for your target audience and the role you serve in their lives.

Writers of every kind should keep the above in mind, as the words people encounter on the web are a large part of a total user experience that ultimately decides 1) Whether a business gets increased brand awareness, quality leads, customer loyalty and revenue; and 2) Whether an end-user finds the information they need to make a purchasing decision that will satisfy their want or need.

I’d love to chat more about writing for the web. Email me at archele@cuberis.com or join the conversation on Twitter.