Here are some tips to help you write clearly for the web.
Plan new or revised content offline – on paper or in a Word document.
Draft your content and layout (how you will present it on the page). Note which template you might use and which special features you’ll employ, for example, accordions.
Remember, if copying content from Word, strip the formatting by copying into Notepad first and then copying that version and pasting into SharePoint. This avoids importing code that could break some of our page features (such as tabs and accordions).
You can create directly in SharePoint if you prefer, but note that SharePoint times out so ensure you save and check in fairly frequently so you don't lose your work.
Write with simple words and aim for a grade 6 reading level on your main pages and a grade 8 reading level for "child" pages. (In MS Word, choose File, Options, Show Readability Stats; when you spell-check the document you will be given statistics at the end.)
Make it conversational and keep the tone appropriate to the message.
Use words that your audience would use and avoid using scientific and medical jargon.
However, when writing for the health professional audience, you can write at a higher grade level and assume a certain amount of medical/discipline-specific knowledge.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia's Professional Standards and Guidelines: Medical Assistance in Dying is a good example of a document for a professional audience that is written in plain language.
See Plain Language Tips & Examples for more guidance.
Avoid welcome messages, summaries, or instructions on how to use the site. Use the inverted pyramid style – address the “who, what, when, where, why, and how?” content first, important details next, and general and background information last.
Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep to one idea per paragraph; sentence fragments are acceptable. Frequently revise your writing and if you can say something in half the word count, then do that.
Use a descriptive phrase for a link instead of “click here” or “more.” Most people use search engines (such as Google) to search for content. Search engines look at link text as well as content on the page for keywords, so make sure your keywords (the words that describe your topic) are in the link.
- Poor – On-site fitness classes are available at some PHSA locations, including Zumba, yoga, boot camps, and belly dancing. Click here for more.
- Better – Find on-site fitness classes at select PHSA locations, including Zumba, yoga, boot camps, and belly dancing. See the fitness schedule.
Review your work. Reading backwards makes spelling errors and typos easier to spot, as does reading out loud or reviewing a printed version. If possible, have a colleague read over your content before posting it to the site.
You might also want to review your work after several days. Revisiting content after a "breathing space" can help the editing process.
If you must have a long list, be sure to categorize it so your reader isn't faced with link soup – a jumble of items in no discernable order.
A long list of resources or frequently asked questions in a single topic would be more user-friendly if it were split up and moved into related subtopics.
Be discerning with the number of links you use on a page. You don't need to link repeatedly to the same place within a single section of text.
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