Website Writing Guide

Writing principles for the Web

Layering content - the iceberg approach

State what the page is about at the top. Then provide more detailed information progressively down the page or on other linked pages.

Structure text so that the reader will know what a Web page is about from the page heading and first few lines. Do not bury important information behind jargon and qualifying phrases that require the reader to search down the page just to establish what information it contains. Burying information is a common error.

Very few users of a website care about the organisation’s mission, vision or why a particular project, product or information is provided. If such information must be provided, place it in an ‘About us’ section of the website. Most users simply want information or online services that meet their needs.

Research from Jakob Nielsen indicates that users scan Web pages looking for relevant headings and key words. They do not read every word until they are certain the information is relevant and important. Many users do not scroll down a page to reveal hidden content unless they believe that what appears below the screen may be important.

The iceberg approach

This means writers need to layer content on a page or across a number of pages or within the one page. Think of layering as an iceberg. The tip can be seen easily and hints at what lies beneath. Entice the reader to dive deeper into the page or website to reveal all that you have - but don't drown them in needless content! The iceberg approach:

  • First layer – brief summary of the content in a sentence or two.
  • Second layer – the main information that satisfies most users’ needs.
  • Third layer – the full details that may cover many pages and is often provided in a PDF.

Once the essence of the Web page is presented in the heading and introduction, go into greater detail and add all necessary associated information further down the page or on a linked page. That is, allow them to dive as deep into your content as they want.


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