Alistair McAlpine

Plain language webwriting for real people

In Featured, Writing for the Web on September 10, 2010 at 2:14 p09

Video Version available
Web writing using plain language is the key to clear communication, more hits on your website and more return traffic. Satisfy your readers using plain language and they’ll be back.

Plain Language plain and simple

Sometimes we forget that our readers are real people with complex and busy lives. They have no time for poor writing so give them what they want.

Internet users – what do they want?

They want to feel confident, they want to feel in control.

They don’t want to feel inadequate and frustrated.

How can you give them what they’re looking for?

Plain language please, when writing for the web.

Plain language will improve

  • your website’s credibility
  • it’s usability
  • and your credibility

And hopefully some of your readers will actually stay to read some of your text.

Speak clearly – write friendly

The internet is a deceptively intimate medium and the voice you write with is really important. From your voice your readers will interpret your:

  • intonation
  • attitude
  • intentions.

The voice that you write with however, is not always the voice that your readers hear. So how can we keep our readers in tune with our intentions?

Effective web writing dictates we use plain language

Use familiar language that is easy to understand. Familiar to them, not necessarily to you.

  • Be concise. On the internet, less is better.
  • Write as you speak, in a conversational tone.  Some like to read aloud what they’ve written and adjust it.
  • Once you’ve finished writing, cut it by half.
  • Edit and cut it again.
  • Cut it again.

On the internet, less is more.

Mark Twain, that famous American blogger, was once quoted as saying that if he’d had more time he’d have written a shorter letter.

Keep sentences short – as a guide shorter than 20 words, and paragraphs less than 65.

Dumb web readers?  Dumb web writer

Someone once told me they have to dumb down what they write for internet readers. Well, our readers aren’t dumb, they’re actually quite astute. They know at a glance whether your text is going to be difficult to read, whether it has long sentences, long words.

So keep those sentences short.

On the internet keep words short

Don’t use long words when shorter ones will do. Use the words, the vocabulary of your readers and your website will rise up the search results.

You’ll have keywords on your page.

Write clearly

Don’t use PR-speak. Don’t lecture. Don’t try to sound important, because when you try to sound important on the internet you just sound self-important.

Your website readers need your help

Help them to feel competent, in control, not inadequate and frustrated. Plain language increases accessibility, usability and your credibility.

So remember to:

  • write as you would speak, in a conversational tone
  • use familiar language that’s easy to understand
  • be concise
  • be precise

Write web pages from your readers point of view

Don’t keep telling them how great you are. The word “you” should occur on your page more than the word “we”.

Make it satisfying for your readers and they’ll stay and read your text.

Of course that’s assuming they find you in the first place.
Check out: Keyword placement for web writers.


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