Website Writing Guide
Web writing and presentation style
Sentence and paragraph style
Make sentences simple and short. This makes the information easier to understand on first reading and less daunting for the user. It gives the writer flexibility to break the information into paragraphs.
Remember: No one ever complained that a website was too easy to understand.
Common reasons for complex sentences appearing on Web pages:
- habit - writers who are used to writing paper-based documents such as essays and reports where more complex structures are more appropriate
- lack of confidence - writers who are unsure of the content tend to bloat sentences with more words hoping they haven't missed anything.
- haste to publish content - indiscriminate copying and pasting content from paper-based sources without editing for the Web
- lack of awareness - writers and editors who are unaware of how people read Web pages or of their readers' needs
- over-estimating readers' understanding of the material - writers who have dealt with their organisation's jargon for years forget many users will struggle with too many ideas and jargon in a sentence.
There is no rule about how many sentences should be in a paragraph. However, the Web environment calls for fewer sentences per paragraph than paper-based environments.
Keeping paragraphs short and breaking sentences up into paragraphs creates more white space on the page and less clutter which helps users comprehend the information more readily.
How many paragraphs should be under any one heading?
There is no rule about how many paragraphs should be under any one heading. The more headings you use on a page the easier it is for users to scan the page for relevant content. When creating a new paragraph consider if creating a new sub-heading would help the user.
In paper-based documents we tend to use topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs to introduce its theme. However, this technique does not work so well on the Web because it simply creates more words for users to read and as they scan the words they may miss the topic entirely.
A brief heading does the job of a topic sentence and is more readily scanned by users.
Of course, too many sub-headings on a page can also be a distraction. Writers and editors need to use their judgement.