Writing for the Web

The Web as a medium is distinct from the printed page. Many of the rules of good writing still appply, but there are some differences of which you should be aware.


Studies indicate that reading from the screen is more difficult than reading from the printed page. People may read up to 25% more slowly.

Therefore, brevity is desirable when writing for the Web. Write brief paragraphs grouped into brief sections on brief pages.

If you want to put lengthy text documents on-line, you may wish to encourage your users to print the document for easy reading. It may also be neccessary to provide an alternate, printer-friendly version of your Web page.


Remember that on the Web, people may encounter your pages out of context. It's a non-linear free-for-all out there! Your pages should be written with this in mind.

Often you will want to build non-linear access directly into your design, so that your users can jump to whatever topic or section they wish. This means you need to write in a non-linear style.

The Art of Titling

Every Web document should have a title (defined with the TITLE element of HTML). Just as documents are encountered out of context, so are document titles. The title is often used by search engines and Web directories.

A good title should make sense out of context.

Below are a number of titles of actual Web pages on the Xavier University Web server, taken at random from the Alta Vista search engine. Which titles are most effective in terms of giving you an idea of the page's contents?

Using ALT Text Effectively

Always keep in mind that not all people will see the images in your documents. Some of your users may be visually impaired. Others may be using a text-only browser. Still others may have image loading turned off.

That is why it is essential to provide alternative text for every image. This is the purpose of the ALT attribute. For more on this attribute, see the HTML tutorial.

Let's consider what the sample home page we examined earlier would look like if we had image loading turned off:

The National Women's Health Information Center Women's Body Image and Health
Search by Health Topic Health News and Current Events
Frequently Asked Questions Dictionaries and Journals
Selected Health Information For the Media
Informacion en Español The Office on Women's Health
About NWHIC Guest Editor
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