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Write for the Web

Good writing is good writing regardless of the medium, but the dynamic nature of the web offers writers some particular opportunities as well as challenges. 

Here are some classic guidelines for good web writing as well as some particular tips for writing while using our websites' SharePoint 2013 content management system.

Write clearly

Here are some tips to help you write clearly for the web.

Plan

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. 

Strip formatting

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.

Use plain English

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.

Put important content front & centre

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. 

Keep it short & simple (KISS)

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.

Avoid web terms

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

Proofread & edit

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. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)


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.
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.

Links

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.

Poor
Decision tool

Our Decision Tool is now available to support women in making an informed decision to screen for breast cancer using mammography. Complete this short online form to get a personalized report.


Better
Don’t know if you should get a mammogram?

Our short Decision Tool can help you decide. 


Write visually

Here are some tips to help you write visually for the web.

Use bold & italics

Use italics or bold to draw attention to keywords, and put keywords at the start of sentences. Avoid italicizing or bolding entire sentences or long phrases.

Never underline 

Never underline words – underlining usually indicates a link, so it’s confusing if an underlined word is not a link.

Use meaningful headings & subheadings

Headings help break up the text and help users scan the page. Subheadings can capture the flavour of text or summarize it. They help identify key points for the user who is scanning.

  • Don’t use cute or funny headings – make sure they are clear and informative.
  • On our websites, use an ampersand instead of "and" in all headings. However, in body text, use "and". 

Avoid repetition in headings

Don’t repeat the words in a section or channel unless it’s necessary for clarity or grammar. 

  • For example, in the Clinics section, there is no need to add the word “clinic” to the page title for an individual clinic; this makes the URL unnecessarily long. 

Likewise, don’t repeat words in subheads. 

  • For example, under a heading called Hepatitis, don’t say Hepatitis Prevention and Hepatitis Resources; just say Prevention and Resources.

Apply the heading & subheading styles

Choosing a heading and subheading style in the editing ribbon will help text stand out. The styles are approved font styles and colour changes, and they insert tags in the HTML code that indicate heading styles, which is good for search engine optimization (SEO). 

To maintain consistency, all headings and subheadings (including subheadings in the right margin), and tab titles and accordion panels should be in sentence case. In sentence case, capitalize the first letter of the first word and any proper nouns. 

Page titles should be in title case. In title case, the first letter of the first and last words and all important words are capitalized. All verbs (including the tiny "to be" verbs) should be capitalized. 

Sentence case
This is an example of sentence case

Title case
This Is an Example of Title Case

  • Topics: use H2 (heading 2)
  • Subtopics: use H3 (heading 3)
  • Sub-subtopics: use H4 (heading 4)
  • Headings in the right margin: use H5 (heading 5)

Use lists

Lists are an excellent way of breaking up text. They will increase the readability of your page by making it easier to scan and by keeping the content organized.  

  • Put keywords at the beginning of each bullet point, so readers can find them when they scan vertically.
  • Use bullets (an unordered list) rather than numbers (an ordered list), unless there is a specific order to the items in it. 
  • If the bullet points complete the introductory sentence, then don’t capitalize the first words and do not use periods at end.
  • If the bullet points are each complete sentences, then capitalize the first words and put periods at the end.
  • Do not put more than 10 items in a list. If you have more than 10 items, it is time to think about how to split the items into categories.

Don’t use tables

Tables do not perform well on mobile devices, so avoid if possible.

Don't use all caps (capital letters)

Never use capitals for entire sentences or words. It is difficult to read and is the online equivalent to shouting. Instead, use bold or italics (sparingly) if you want to emphasize something.

Align text left

Text that is aligned left is easier for the eye to read online because there is a set starting point. 

Centred text creates uneven sentence starting points and is hard for the eye to track. Justified text (straight left and right margins) creates odd spacing between words to fit within a fixed width.

Organize

Here are some tips to help you think about how to start organizing your content. For detailed guidance, see Organize Your Content.

A bite, snack, or meal?

You don’t know how "hungry" the users are for information, so break your content up into pieces: bites, snacks and meals. Some readers don’t want the full meal—don’t make them read through lots of text for a bite of info, like clinic hours.

  • Bite is something like a phone number or clinic hours.
  • Snack is several bites such as a phone number, clinic location, and a mailing address.
  • Meal is a detailed page including information, such as types of tests done at the clinic, fees and testing hours. 

Our templates make structuring your page easy. 

  • They have feature boxes on the right-side of the page for calling out contact and location information, related documents, and more. 
  • Some templates have tabs and accordions for layering content.

Layer the content

Content should live in layers, so don’t try to cram everything into long dense paragraphs. 

Put the most important content at the top, and the rest in the tabs or accordions, or on "child" pages if needed. Focusing the content by subject into different page areas (rather that piling it all into a single page area) helps the reader and search engine optimization (SEO).

Links to external sources

Use your best judgment when linking to external websites or documents. 

It is best to link to government or other reputable, non-profit sites than to commercial websites, so we don’t appear to be endorsing those sites. Don't link to commercial sites unless it is in the best interests of our patients. 

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