The list of articles below all come from the Nielsen Norman Group. Everything these guys write is gold: it’s evidence-based, meaning it’s not just their opinions, but based on test of actual users and actual websites. But they also tell you enough to decide whether their results really apply to your situation. Look through all their Writing for the Web articles, their list of Most Popular articles, or my list of favorites, below. Many of their best articles were written a long time ago, but they constantly revisit topics to test whether their advice still stands — and these articles have stood the test of time.
Be Succinct! (Writing for the Web) (Mar 1997)
The three main guidelines for writing for the Web are:
- Be succinct : write no more than 50% of the text you would have used in a hardcopy publication
- Write for scannability : don’t require users to read long continuous blocks of text
- Use hypertext to split up long information into multiple pages
Satisficing: Quickly Meet Users’ Main Needs (Mar 2014)
Every web page — and most especially critical pages where people must understand the scope of the site’s offerings — should be evaluated with satisficing in mind. Can someone who’s never seen the page before figure out what it’s about at a glance? Is the most essential information prioritized in an obvious location?
Our earlier studies of how people read on the Web [Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web] indicated that they: prefer to scan rather than read, want text to be short and to the point, and detest overly hyped promotional writing (“marketese”)….A common thread between conciseness, scannability, and objectivity is that each reduces the user’s cognitive load, which results in faster, more efficient processing of information.
How Users Read on the Web (Oct 1997)
They don’t. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. [But see also Website Reading: It (Sometimes) Does Happen]
Write for Reuse (Mar 2009)
[I]t’s fairly standard advice to simply write for your readers and their tasks. For old media, reader goals are well known, ranging from being entertained (when reading a mystery novel) to getting investment ideas… Writing for the Web differs, however, because various users might approach a given piece of content in different ways…
Break Grammar Rules on Websites for Clarity (Mar 2014)
Web writing differs from print writing to emphasize scannability. Some grammar rules are worth breaking if they improve fast comprehension.
A Link is a Promise (Dec 2014)
“the terms used in links should be understandable when taken out of context and read alone… For example, trade words such as go,more, and read more, for descriptive phrases such as Chat with a specialist, Products and services, or Baby born on airplane.
To help users quickly find what they need, anchor text should stand out from the body content and accurately describe the page that it refers to.
About Us pages
Even large organizations exist only as words and images within a browser window. How can you make people trust you more than they would trust an equally good-looking set of pixels on another site? Be a good storyteller.
“About Us” Information on Websites (Sep 2008)
Unfortunately, while most sites offer an About Us section, they often do a poor job of communicating the crucial information it should contain.
Key content requirements for product pages are: answer users’ questions, be direct, and help with product comparison.