Scannability and Readability in Web Writing|
Reading online is 25% slower than reading from printed material, and it's harder on the eyes.
Web users scan for information rather than reading content word-by-word, so we need to break down the text. Use short headings, lists, and short paragraphs to make content more scannable.
Use headings and sub-headings to organise the page into sections and help readers find specific topics and information:
Lists draw the eye, so break down important information into concise list items.
Check long sentences. If there are a lot of commas, colons, and/or semi-colons, try pulling the points out into a list.
Keep the text for each list item short - a 5-line list item isn't a bullet point, it's a paragraph with a bullet in front of it.
- Have no more than 9 items in a single list.
- Keep lists to a maximum of two levels.
- Use numbered lists where the order of entries is important.
- Use bullet point lists where the sequence of entries isn't important.
- Ensure each list is introduced by at least one line of text.
Short paragraphs keep content scannable. Many readers will scan only the first sentence of each paragraph - perhaps the first two sentences if they're very short.
- Get to the point straight away, in the first line.
- Build each paragraph around a single idea.
- Paragraphs should be no longer than 40 - 70 words.
- Paragraphs should be no more than 5 lines.
- Keep summary paragraphs to 30 - 50 words.
- Try to vary the size of paragraphs.
Use bold text sparingly.
- Using bold text for emphasis on the Web is a cheap trick. It looks unprofessional.
- Don't use bold words inside prose text. Keep bold for headings and - if you absolutely have to use it - restrict bold text to the lead-in at the beginning of a paragraph.
- If you have to bold text to emphasise words inside a paragraph, the paragraph is probably too long. Try breaking it into two paragraphs (or more).
- Remember - making everything bold, effectively renders none of it bold.
There's an exception to these rules when highlighting important information. Even then, restrict bold to Note: or Important! and leave the message itself un-bolded.
Only use all capital letters if you want to SCREAM at the reader - otherwise, keep it down to a conversational level by restricting capitals to their proper places.
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