Web & Social Media

A phone with Facebook login page and Social Media word blocks next to the phone.

When writing for the Web and Social Media, the Associated Press Style Book and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online will remain your primary reference. The Microsoft Manual of Style and The Yahoo! Style Guide may also be referenced. As with other sections of this Writing Style Guide, this content is continually updated, and your suggestions for updates and additions are welcome.  

Primary Differences Between Web and Traditional Writing

Shape your text for online reading  

Text that works best on the Web is text that gets to the point fast and that makes it easy for readers to pick out key information. Online reading is an experience that’s different from reading text in print. Most online readers scan first, looking at headings, boldfaced terms and images. They are more likely to scan the top of the page than the bottom to see if the content is relevant.  

Get to the point  

Your content has a few seconds – three or less – to encourage people to read more, take action, or navigate to another of your pages. Four guidelines for effective online writing are:  

  1. Keep it short – short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, short pages  
  2. Frontload your content – Put the most important information in the upper- left area of the screen. If content is unavoidably lengthy or complex, consider putting a summary or bulleted list of topics that the page covers at the top of the page.  Keep it simple, and delete fluff. Write for a lower reading-comprehension level than you expect many of your readers to have, and you’ll make all your readers happy.  
  3. Make text easy to scan  
  4. Use meaningful headlines and subheadings. Bulleted lists are good, too.  
Write for the World  

Even though you are writing for a specific audience, your actual audience may have a variety of characteristics you haven’t considered. For example, they may have disabilities that affect how they access and navigate your site; they may also be older or younger than you realize, more or less proficient in reading comprehension, and more or less knowledgeable in the subject matter of your site. Also, your site may be viewed all over the world where English is not the first language. Write to appeal to the widest possible audience by keeping words and sentences short and simple; use gender-neutral terms whenever possible; avoid location-specific references and culture-specific slang or puns.  

Help people navigate  

Usability refers to how easily site visitors can interact with a site to achieve their goals. Not every visitor will start on your homepage, so provide direction on every page. Give viewers calls to action about where to go next on your site. Write clear links and use clickable phrases. (You could win a scholarship. rather than “Click on …” to learn about scholarships.”) “Click here to …” is wordy and sounds dated. Action instructions, such as “Learn more” or “Register now” are better choices. 

Make the right content choices  

Should be based on audience, goal, audience requirements, means of accessing your information, measurability, as well as budget and schedule constraints.  

Text for the web 

Users are more likely to scan online text than read it. They decide very quickly if content is relevant to them, and searching is their most common behavior. With a glance, users should be able to have a rough idea of what your content is about. 

Make text  scannable

Users are more likely to scan online text than read it. They decide quickly if content is relevant.  

Organize your text

Put the most important information first; give the conclusion first, use short, focused paragraphs, use notes and tips that focus on your main point, use plain language.  

Use links – intelligently

Using links to related information can help keep your content concise and scannable. Descriptive link titles are critical.   

Note: When writing for the web, avoid underlining anything, as it can be confused with a hyperlink.  

Video content

Video content for the web, if done well and with good user instructions, does a better job of telling your story.  


Blogs are a good way to provide users with ongoing, regular communications. They should frequent and on a regular schedule.