Writing for the Web

Writing for the web is quite different than writing for print publications—online copy is much shorter. Below are several tips to help you produce effective and engaging content for your readers.

Writing for Your Reader

Most online users may have limited time or patience to read. In fact, most people actually do not read online—they scan.

Why users scan: During an average visit, users only have time to read 28% of the words on a given web page. So, you’ll need to provide users with content that is easy to skim and understand.

How do you know if your content is clear and concise? When writing and editing, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are my primary audiences?
  • What do they really need to know?
  • What is my main message or call-to-action?
  • Is this information clear to all users (not just to my department)?
  • Is there a shorter way to say this?

Double- and triple-check to make sure your content is accurate, useful, and engaging for each audience type (e.g., faculty, students, prospective students). By writing and editing with your readers' point of view in mind, not only will it be easier to develop content to suit their needs, but you’ll also have a far more engaged and satisfied audience.

Writing Hints and Tips

  • Not sure how to begin? Head to a website that features content you love to read and consider employing the same best practices when you write. Take note of:
    • How content is presented on the page
    • The type of language used
    • The length of the story or page.
  • Read through Jakob Nielsen’s free Writing for the Web tips and tutorials.
  • Content on web pages should always be:
    • Updated and current. This includes images.
    • Targeted for your audience. Even before you begin writing, think about who will visit your web page(s). Write content with the users’ interests in mind. Make sure the information is easy to locate, read, and understand.
    • Friendly and engaging. The content’s tone and writing style should be personal, casual, and conversational. Use the active voice, personal pronouns, and strong action verbs. Remember: the website is our marketing tool.
    • Concise. Keep it simple. Summarize key points and omit unnecessary words. Cut, cut, and cut again!
    • Direct. Put the main message first. Keep sentences to one or two points.
    • Easy to scan. Simplify as much as possible using bulleted lists and tables.
    • Consistent and accurate. Check for grammatical and spelling errors before posting. Refer to the Editorial Style Guide.
    • Free of jargon. Do not use Emerson lingo and acronyms (e.g., VMA, WLP, Piano Row) unless explained.
    • Optimized for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Use important keywords; make pages search-friendly. Check with our SEO guide.

Formatting Dos and Don'ts

Before you post your content online, prep your content for proper formatting:


  • USE ALL UPPERCASE CHARACTERS, which can make the content more difficult to read.
  • Use italics unless grammatically necessary.
  • Underline text that is not a link.
  • Use the phrase “Click Here.” Instead, link an appropriate phrase or keyword within the text.


  • Keep paragraphs to no more than five lines of text to increase readability.
  • Use organized, bulleted lists.
  • Use bold sparingly.
  • Use action words.
  • Link to a URL or an email address directly instead of writing out the address.
  • Check to see that all links are relevant, accurate, and working.


Need help with formatting or the content management system? Read our training guides or contact Web Services at web@emerson.edu.