Writing copy for the web
Over 65% of people now view websites on a small screen on a mobile device. Copy should be short, concise and focussed on the task or information that a page visitor needs to find.
Top task your information
- People have shorter attention spans online - put the most important things first and understand what top tasks your readers want to fulfil.
- Use statistics and usage data to understand what is important to your audience.
- Put copy and links about the top tasks first on the page, with other tasks in descending order of interest.
- Prioritise hyperlinks - if tasks are fulfilled by following hyperlinks, place the links above descriptive copy.
Keep copy short
- People read 25% slower onscreen, and they skim rather than read.
- People read bulleted copy in preference to long sentences.
Don't tell people things they don't want to know
People aren't usually interested in the formal, policy-driven background to things, so don't fill up your copy with explanations and background.
- There is no need for lots of information about Acts of Parliament
- Or what used to happen before an act, or other change to a service
- Or the benefits of a national eligibility threshold
Just tell page visitors what they need to know.
Most people don't read introductory text, and even those who do only need to read it once. This makes it the least useful copy on a page.
Avoid FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the website and intranet
We don't publish information in an FAQ (frequently asked questions) format. Why we don't publish FAQs (frequently asked questions) explains why.
Avoid future tense on the website
When you write in future tense, you give yourself an immediate task to update copy the day after any date mentioned.
If you don't update immediately after, your page visitors lose confidence in the copy being current... because things that have already happened are referred to in the future.
Bulleting often works instead.
For instance, instead of:
There will be an opening event on March 23rd, followed by another on April 4th.
- March 23rd: Opening event
- April 4th: Follow up event
After those dates have passed, it still reads well because the dates haven't got a tense attached.
Use simple plain English
- Long, complicated text slows the customer journey
- It leads to misunderstanding and avoidable contact for clarification
- Average reading age is 9
- Even experts prefer simple copy
Examples of good content presentation
- Short, meaningful headers and subheaders
- Bullet points
- Well-segmented by subject
- Written in an active voice
- Clear calls to action
- Task-focused content
- Mobile first approach
Content design: planning, writing and managing content presents lots of great advice on writing for Government websites.
The Government Digital Service style guide covers style, spelling and grammar conventions for all content published on GOV.UK, arranged alphabetically. It's a great guide for writing good quality, plain English content.