Writing web content
Last updated: January 16, 2023
Design good content by understanding its purpose and organizing it thoughtfully. Use this guide to write clear and accessible web content.
On this page
- Understand the purpose of your content
- Organize your writing
- Write for accessibility
- Use plain language
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It’s important to understand who you’re writing for and why. This will help you decide what to include and what should be left out. Consider:
- Who's the audience?
- Why do they need this content?
- What tasks are they trying to complete?
- How are you answering those needs?
- Have you done an inventory and audit to see if those needs are met in other content?
Start with the most important information, such as the purpose of the page. Arrange topics in a logical order and use:
- Descriptive headings to organize content
- Lists and examples to break up long content
- Tables for data
- Callout boxes to highlight important information
- Accordions for audience-specific content
Simple paragraphs help readers understand the topic. Aim for 5 sentences or less per paragraph. If you're introducing a new topic, start a new paragraph.
How you write can create or reduce barriers for people trying to use your content. No matter who your audience is, accessibility must be part of your process. When you write, use:
- Plain language
- Clear headings in the correct order
- Unique and descriptive page titles
- Descriptive link text
- Inclusive and respectful language
- Colour contrast with a high enough contrast ratio
- Accurate captions and transcripts for audiovisual content such as videos
- Alternative text on all graphics or images
Our content needs to read in a way that most people can understand it. Using plain language helps everyone, even specialist and technical audiences. When language is overly complex, it can seem like we’re intentionally hiding information by making it difficult to understand.
Review your work using the Plain Language Checklist.
Aim for a Grade 8 reading level or lower.
Various readability checkers are available to help you write in plain language. Microsoft Word has a built-in readability checker and grammar tools. You can also test the level of your content using tools such as the HemingwayApp online tool (external link). There is a downloadable version available for sensitive content.
Short sentences make it easier to read and remember important information. Aim for a maximum of 15 to 20 words per sentence. To do this, break information into single-subject sentences.
Cut any adjectives that do not improve a reader's understanding. Adjectives add description to nouns such as people, places and things. Sometimes they’re necessary for context such as:
- Please complete the required information
In this case, ‘required’ is an adjective that tells us what we must do.
Cut any adverbs that do not improve a reader's understanding. Adverbs add description to verbs. Sometimes they’re necessary for context such as:
- The project finished early
In this case, ‘early’ is an adverb that tells us the project is complete.
Remove filler words
Remove filler words to shorten sentences. For example:
- And also → And
- Skills and abilities → Skills
- Planning for the future → Planning
- To be able to → To
- Surveys are used to assess → Surveys assess
- All of the required information → The required information
- To make updates → To update
Write to your audience's needs
Learn who your audience is and what they need, then write for them.
Use the same word(s) to describe the same thing on related pages.
Avoid complex words and policy language
If you need to use complex or technical words, explain them or provide examples. If you’re using many complex terms, you may want to consider creating a glossary.
Where possible, limit policy language.
Choose everyday words
Use common words where you can, for example:
- Accommodation → housing
- A number of → some, many, few
- Approximately → about
- Aggregate → total
- Amongst → among
- As a consequence of → because
- Assist → help
- Collaborate → work with
- Concerning → about
- Disburse → pay
- Discontinue → stop
- Dispatch → send
- Documentation → documents
- Due to the fact → because
- Establish → create, set-up, form
- Give consideration to → think about, consider
- Identify → decide on, know
- In accordance with → in line with
- Initiative → program, project, plan
- In the absence of → Without
- In order to → To
- In the event of → If, when
- In relation to → about
- Individual → Person
- Is able to → Can
- It should be noted → remember
- Submit an application → apply
- Method → way
- Obtain → get
- Prior to → before
- Request → ask
- Require → need, must
- Subsequently → after
- Result in → cause, make, lead to
- The amount of time that → how long
- Upon → on
- Utilize → use
- Various options → options