Writing for the Web: Improving Readability Online

Emma Crameri Emma Crameri has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
on 13 May 2021

Writing for the web is a specialist skill based on research conducted about how people read online.

When people are online, they are looking for information or to solve a problem. They may be using their mobile phone and in a rush. As a result, most users are scanning rather than reading every word. Writing for the web needs to cater for people who skim, scan and scroll.

Online Readability

You’ll want to create content that is useful to your readers, solves their problems and provides value. To improve readability online you’ll want to use a conversational tone and plain English.

You’ll want to structure the content like an inverted pyramid. The most important information is contained in the first paragraph. Avoid waffling here or talking about yourself. Then try to focus on one idea per paragraph.

Headings are a great way to break up text and tell the users what the section is about. You might like to use other signposts like subheadings, article summaries and link text. Lists are a great way of providing information concisely.

Here are some more online readability tips:

  • Avoid using all capitals as this is difficult for people to read, especially anyone with dyslexia
  • Avoid using italics online as it’s hard to read
  • Start each paragraph with the key idea
  • Use short sentences and short paragraphs
  • Use call to actions to convert your readers to customers
  • Use short simple words
  • Write in the active voice and use transition words
  • Remove weasel words
  • Avoid using industry jargon and difficult words

You might like to brainstorm some ideas about your target audience and create some user personas for your typical clients.

Don’t forget to cover the basics of information about the topic. You’ll want to cover the five Ws: Who? What? Where? Why? And How?

You might like to place yourself in your users’ shoes, and ask yourself:

  • Who is this content for?
  • What do they want?
  • What do you want to achieve?

Measuring Readability

You’ll want to write text which is easy to understand. You can measure the readability of your text by using the Flesch reading ease score. It uses two variables to determine the readability score: the average length of your sentences (measured by the number of words), and the average number of syllables per word. This results in a score from 0 to 100.

Did you know that Stephen King writes at about the 8th grade reading level, while Danielle Steel’s writing is often around the 5th grade reading level?

You can improve your readability score with software like Grammarly, Readable.io and WebFX Readability Tool. There are some WordPress plugins that can help improve your readability, including Yoast SEO, SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant and Squirrly SEO.

Optimize your Multimedia

Images and videos help to explain complex concepts. Multimedia elements help to make your content interesting and engaging.

You’ll want to optimize your images and file sizes to keeps download times short. Compression is often necessary to deliver audio and video over the web. You may need to make some tradeoffs between file size, image quality, frame rate and audio quality.

  • Maximum download time should be no more than 20 seconds
  • Use the alt tag to describe your images to aid text readers and provide context for search engines
  • Break audio and video into small grabs to accommodate large file sizes
  • Aim for videos of less than 5 minutes – trim the fat off them
  • Optimize all of your PDF files
  • Make sure you are adding text alternatives for audio. Transcripts are essential for good accessibility

Online Style Guide

You might like to develop an online style guide that outlines your website’s guidelines and online writing fundamentals.

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