Writing for the web is different than writing letters or books and journal articles. On the web, people scan for information and text needs to work on all different kinds of devices. Using easy to scan formats like lists and headings is really important.
But sometimes we really just need to write a paragraph. And this is one format we use all the time, so we really don't need to worry about it, right? Actually, paragraphs on the web are a bit different from printed paragraphs in one critical way. They have to be much, much shorter!
Here's a great quote from A List Apart (http://alistapart.com/article/writing-for-the-web):
- Most of the time, an acceptable print paragraph is too long for the web.
- It’s a retinal thing. We can stare at a well-designed book for hours without eye fatigue. Staring at a monitor is different. The eye needs to move, to fight that fatigue. So we break longer paragraphs into shorter ones. It’s the same content, spaced differently.
- Even writers who are not designers must be mindful of this.
What is well-structured content?
Well-structured content follows basic formatting guidelines that ensure that your website is well-organized, clearly understandable to readers, and accessible to people with disabilities. Such guidelines, which include Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices, provide the added benefit of making your site more findable and promotable, since Google and other search engines "see" pages that are well-formatted better than those that aren't. Creating well-structured content requires the usage of some basic patterns and strategies.
Basic Patterns and Strategies
- Write your content in small chunks
- keep your sentences clear and simply structured
- Define subsections of your pages with HTML Heading tags (h2, h3, h4, h5)
- Keep all headings nested by numerical level, don't choose them just for looks
- Make lists of things into HTML bulleted or numbered lists
- Only use tables to display tabular data (like charts of statistics), not for page layout
- Make sure that any text you make into a link reflects what people get to if they click it (avoid using "click here")
Remember, it's your job as a content creator to help people find the information they're looking for. So make it easy on them with easy to read paragraphs.
Why do I care?
The HTML formats that you use in your content make your content more readable not only by your average browser who can look at the internet, but also by search engines like Google, and people who browse the internet in ways we sometimes forget, like by having a screenreader read it aloud, or by tabbing from place to place without a mouse.
Design and Readability
If you are working with a nice Drupal theme (like any of the new Stanford Drupal themes), the styles are designed to make your site look good when you use well-structured HTML. Walls of text without any headers are fine for novels and essays but don't work well in the internet, where people scan content at lightning speed. Give your users something easy to grab onto by formatting your content clearly and keeping it short.
People with visual impairments surf the internet using screenreaders, which are designed to make it possible to jump from heading to heading or link to link. This allows those users to "scan" the content of a page quickly. If your content is well-structured, screenreaders will be able to call out the primary sections on each of your pages.
Search engines like Google read your website the same way a visually impaired person does, with all text and no pretty formatting. Build a hierarchy of information by calling attention to the main sections of your pages with headings, and Google, Yahoo, and Bing will be able to tell what is important on each page.
By default, the most important information will be your Drupal page title (most themes make this a heading 1), then the search engine will assume that any text in a heading 2 is the next most important thing to consider if someone is searching for those words, followed by heading 3, etc.
Other Formats to Consider
While working with your content, make sure to also make use of formats like headings and lists to structure and break up your content.