Structure of Content and Web Writing

Present Content that Is “Scannable”

Users don’t read websites, they scan through them looking for the information they’re interested in at that particular moment. They pay particular attention to pictures, headings, and links, but at most only read the beginning of or skim through the body of a text. This is why you should present your content in a way that allows users to easily find what they’re looking for while they scan through the website. Your content should be able to stand for itself and be understood.

Choose Meaningful Page Titles

Choose page titles that accurately and clearly represent their content, no more and no less. Website users should be able to quickly recognize whether they're in the right place to look for their information.

Structure Your Content

Make it easier for website users to find their way by structuring content clearly. Content positioned prominently in the field of vision is more easily noticed and intuitively perceived as more important. This is why you should always place the most important information in the central column. Use headings and lists to further structure your website, and put additional content and further information into the right column (related content).

Group Your Content

Website users don’t register content on the web in a linear way, but pick out the content that they’re interested in. If you’re presenting several topics on one page, you should group the information into sections that are clearly identifiable. Create a separate section of text for each subtopic and add headings that are self-evident and could stand alone. Use headings that describe the information as accurately as possible. In the sections of the text, however, only include what is promised in the heading (no more, no less). If you have pictures, graphs, or tables, position them in such a way that it’s clear to which text they belong.

Set Text Width to between 50 and 70 Characters

Ideal readability for web texts is achieved with a text width of between 50 and 70 characters (or 8 to 12 words) per line. Fewer characters offer too little identifiable content per line, while anything above this threshold makes it difficult for your eyes to find the beginning of the next line. Therefore, if possible please always choose the three-column layout of UZH’s web CD for web texts, even if you don’t have any content for the column on the right (related content).

Limit Texts to No More Than 700 Words

Short web texts are more likely to be read than long ones. The content of a page should therefore not cover more than three scrolls or exceed 700 words. If your content goes beyond this, you might want to rethink the structure of your page and split up the information and spread it out across multiple (sub-)pages.

Avoid Information Overload, no “Happy Talk”

A good website offers only the information that a user needs and expects – no more, no less. Too much information will get in the users’ way as they search for their information. Therefore, omit any unnecessary words. Keep your introductory texts and instructions short and succinct, or leave them out altogether if they’re not required or don’t add value. While the use of so-called “happy talk”, which dates back to the dawn of the internet (e.g. “Welcome to our website”, “On this page you will find all the information about...”, “Please fill in the form below”), still persists, it doesn’t add anything of value and should therefore be avoided on modern, well-structured websites.

Adapt Your Language Style to Your Target Readers

It’s very important to use a language style that is suited to your audience. It makes a difference if you’re writing for first-year students, laypersons, or a scientific community. Adapt your style to your target readers and explain specialist terms if necessary. Avoid complicated technical jargon if your content is (also) aimed at laypersons. Keep abbreviations to a minimum and explain them by introducing them in an understandable way.

Active instead of Passive Voice

Whenever possible, write sentences in the active rather than the passive voice. An active, direct style has a more friendly, personal, and less “bureaucratic” effect than a passive and reserved style, which is often found in legal texts and terms and conditions. For example, write “If you have any questions, please contact our Support Team” instead of “Questions will be answered by our Support Team.”

Write Clear and Simple Sentences

Use short sentences and familiar words. Avoid fillers, decorative words, and verbose language. Unlike journalistic or literary texts, a text that presents information in the web should not be written as beautifully or imaginatively as possible. The most obvious or well-known expressions are often the best and most understandable ones. If possible, you should take advantage of existing conventions and avoid reinventing the wheel.

Make Consistent Use of Terms

Make consistent use of terms across all sections of the text and website. This makes it easier for website users to find their way and recognize connections. Unlike in the news or blog posts, repetition is not taboo – on the contrary: Synonyms are likely to confuse readers. For university-wide terms (e.g. inaugural lecture or associated institute), please consult UZH’s terminology database www.uniterm.uzh.ch and use the official UZH terms and spelling (German and English).

Use Upper and Lowercase Style

Text written in upper and lowercase is easier to read than ALL CAPS or all lowercase. Moreover, typing in all caps is considered YELLING and thus further compromises a text’s readability.

Keep Inline Formatting to a Minimum

Words in italics and/or in bold are confusing and create patchiness, which interrupts the reading flow. This is why you should keep such formatting within sections of text to a minimum. If you have to highlight several expressions or words, consider rethinking the structure of your text and using (sub-)headings instead.

The readability and comprehension of a text deteriorates with every link that is added. For every link, the website user’s brain has to make a split-second decision whether to click on it or not. The flow of the text (and with it the comprehension of the text) is thus interrupted even if the user doesn’t click on the link. Whenever possible, links should be added at the end of a page, text section, or teaser. This also increases clarity and facilitates reader guidance by offering a summary of, continuation of, or addition to the information mentioned. In addition, website users who are only interested in the links aren’t “forced” to read through the whole text.

When naming a link, describe where the link will take you as precisely and clearly as possible. If possible, use the page title of the link destination as the link text. An ideal text length for links is between one and five words. You should avoid meaningless link texts such as “here” or “more”, unless in the case of structured pages (such as news overviews or team pages), where these links are added automatically.