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Good web page copy
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

This article explores how people read web pages as compared to print pages, and describes some fundamental guidelines to ensure your message doesn't get lost or overlooked.

When it comes to writing good web page content, context is all. A homepage requires very different content writing than a text heavy page such as this. Furthermore, users will use different methods of reading dependent on their aims.

How people read web content
Take time to write content specifically for your web site. People tend to scan pages on the web instead of reading line by line. Of cause we also regularly scan magazines, posters and TV adds for meaningful content. There are a number of reasons why we scan content whatever the medium. Internet users are often:

under a time constraint
highly focussed about their on-line aims
needful of clear, concise, unambiguous text

Matching style and content
One significant issue we'll also raise here is the need for style and content to be well matched. For example, if users are browsing for information about a particular product, text content has to support navigational elements in ensuring the process is transparent. That is, the user should effortlessly move to their desired goal without the need to reflect on how good or bad the text content is. A second example of when content and style should marry is the well written news headline/image. The combination of a powerful image together with a three to five word phrase can confirm fast and effectively the potential content of an unseen web page.

Write for the web alone
Time and again you'll see text content has been directly lifted from a company's printed document and pasted directly onto a web page. This is very poor practice as these documents have often been written for a different purpose in mind. Worse still, the general practice of using documents intended for internal use within a company and posting them on the web is still prevalent. These kinds of documents should be kept strictly within the confines of the company intranet.

When writing for the web use the simplest language possible. Don't use technical terms if you can avoid them. If you have to use specialist terms ensure you also provide a clear path for users to find out about the meaning of a word or phrase by providing an online glossary.

Testing
Lastly, test your pages with a broad cross section of potential users. Test users provide invaluable feedback. Inform any test users prior to your web site's evaluation that when you are observing you will be unable to speak or answer any questions during the test process. Write down any and all your observations, however small they appear. Gather a team and evaluate your observations. Do not justify deficiencies in your web site, correct them.

More advice
If you're serious about learning more about good web page copy you'll find a great deal of useful information at Jakob Nielsen's web site www.useit.com. Jakob is a leading expert on web usability and his site offers many examples and links to resources about all aspects of this invaluable discipline.
     
       
 
Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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