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Writing for the Web

About Writing for the Web and accessibility

Writing accessible content will help people with cognitive difficulties and visually impaired people. It will also help people from a different language background. Although there are no specific WCAG 2.0 guidelines for writing at single A, it is good practice to make your content as succinct as possible. This is done by reducing the number of words in total, and laying them out on the page so they are easier to understand.

Easy to scan means easy to absorb

  • Use headings
  • Use bulleted lists
  • Use links, as these add credibility and clarity to your content.

Order and amount of information

People skim when reading on the screen, so it is important to provide the essence of the message at the beginning of each page.

  • Have one idea per paragraph
  • One idea per sentence
  • Use the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • Prune your web content

Half the content will do just as well, remove

  • 'Fluffy', 'Welcome' text, or give it a page of its own
  • Marketese, boasts (both bad for site credibility)
  • Metaphors, similes or figures of speech
  • Jargon, scientific words, foreign phrases, puns
  • Do not use a long word, when a short word will do
  • If you can cut a word out, cut it out
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous
  • Generally, you can remove 50% of the words without affecting the meaning of a web page.

Always build good quality web content

Good quality web content is written using the standards for HTML languages, and using HTML tags for their intended purpose.

  • Use valid HTML (validate it)
  • Use tags for their intended purpose, some examples:
    - Make proper lists, rather than using the break (<br>) tag
    - Use structural elements eg, h1, h2, and tables properly
    - Use current tags eg, no <font> tags, as these have been deprecated or phased out (in preference for CSS)
    - Explain acronyms with the <acronym> tag
  • Provide sufficient contrast between the background and text
  • Provide a text equivalent for all non-text elements
  • Write unique titles for web pages.

All of these tips will also make your content better suited to search engines.

Improve the impression your content gives (credibility)

How do people know they can trust your content? They may not, because of problems with many web sites (slow downloads, poor page layout and low content quality), undermine confidence in ALL content. To build credibility:

  • Verify content accuracy and credentials with links
  • Show organisational affiliation (who is behind the site)
  • Make it easy to contact you
  • Use a professional design
  • Make your site easy to use and useful
  • Keep the content up-to-date and error-free
  • Avoid fluff and guff (discussed above)

See the Stanford Web Credibility Project, and in particular the Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.

Language used: Talking to your clients

  • Use clear, simple language
  • Use the active voice and standard register - these are easier to read

Active Voice

In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb; the subject acts.

The written order is subject, verb, object.

Passive Voice

In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. The agent performing the action may appear in a "by the . . ." phrase or may be omitted.

The written order is object, verb, subject.

Examples of Voice

Active: The chairman signed the contract

Passive: The contract was signed by the chairman

Or, Yoda: Signed by the chairman, the contract was

Prize there is for the person who discovers where Yoda provides content for UTAS web sites (this one doesn't count).

However, the active voice can sound a bit hostile or repetitive:

Active: You have not paid this bill

Passive: This bill has not been paid by you

  • If you leave off the object of the sentence, it can sound less threatening.


Formal (can be described as 'stuffy'):
The Board is required by ordinance to monitor the quality of supervision of candidates.

Informal (can be a bit ambiguous):
Supervisors are checked out by the Board.

Standard (nice and plain):
The Board monitors the quality of research supervision.

Double A

No specific requirements.

Triple A

The following techniques will add value to your content and make it easier to understand.

Explaining unusual words and terms


Adding value