Writing for the web

Blog posts should generally adhere to web writing standards such as brevity, clarity and consistency. Jakob Nielson’s now classic article “How Users Read on the Web” provides several useful tips and guidelines to improving your approach to writing for the web. If you’re not a fan of Nielson, or would like a second opinion, try Web Design from Scratch.

1) Text

  • TItles for blog posts: The only rule for this is: be consistent. Some blogs capitalize every word in a title (except articles, short prepositions and conjunctions), for example: “Using Sakai for Class Discussions and Quizzes.” Other blogs will only capitalize the first word, and any proper nouns, for example: “Using Sakai for class discussions and quizzes.”
  • Chunk ideas. Keep important ideas first, and try to keep your related content together in the same small chunk before moving to the next one.
  • Use highlights, headline text, and yes, even bulletpoints. (But easy on the bulletpoints, okay? If you can sum something up with two commas, do it.)
  • Use active voice whenever possible. Here’s a trick: scan your sentences for forms of the verb “to be.” Words like: is, are, was, and were (and “can be”). These are fair game and can be deleted. Delete these words if possible.
  • Unnecessary quotes. Avoid “them.”
  • Instead of adding the entire URL for a weblink, like this: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html just create a link to information.
  • If you just have so much to say, and simply cannot compress your words, consider using the WordPress “insert more” function. This allows you to add a break with a “read more” link to your post, keeping the overall flow of the blog clean, but allowing interested readers to continue reading if they desire.

2) Images and video

If you have an image that can take the place of a paragraph, always opt for the image. Video on the other hand, can take just as long to watch, so use it to reinforce concepts or provide examples. Tools like Skitch (Mac) or Jing (Mac/PC) make screen capturing and image annotation fairly simple. Try searching Flickr and other sites for Creative Commons licensed images that you can reuse on your site. Feel free to embed video from YouTube (or another video sharing site).

Check out this Duke Library reference guide: Images Collections for Duke Users for tips on finding and citing images.