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Writing for digital

Writing for digital is not about 'your' reputation or grasp of language - it's about writing for your audience so they can successfully complete their task online in the quickest and easiest way possible.

Know your audience

Around 44% of Australian adults do not have the literacy skills needed to help them with everyday life, making daily tasks difficult. So it's important to take complicated information and explain it in a way that your larger audience can understand. When writing:
 

  • Keep to the point
  • Use short sentences
  • Keep to one idea per paragraph
  • Use lots of sub-headings (helps with context and memory)
  • Use plain English
  • Explain technical terms the first time you use them on a page - share your knowledge with your readers.
     

Write with empathy. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and write to inform, educate, guide and empower. Write with honesty and integrity.


Make it scannable

Users scan read pages to find what they're looking for/what's relevant to them. Copy needs to be simple, clear and concise. Readers will look for visual clues to help them find what they are looking for. You should use:
 

  • Headings and subheadings to chunk up your content into bite-sized, easy to read pieces. You can then build on this with detail in your supporting paragraphs
  • Simple short sentences
  • Bulleted lists
  • Higlighted words (e.g. bold when explaining navigation/menu items)
  • Related links.

Accessibility

Our language should be clear so users with a disability are confident they can access information on our products and services online.
 

Headings and subheadings are important as they communicate the structure of infomation on a page. They must follow a logical structure and mustn't be used purely for visual effect.
 

Read more on Content accessibility principles from Accessibility Oz.


Less is more

This depends on your subject matter. If writing about a product, service, article or FAQ copy should be engaging, concise and relevant. "Cut out the crap" ('Voice Box' in the Westpac Brand guidelines (PDF 11MB)) - this means no corporate fluff.

A general rule of thumb is that digital content should be at least 50% shorter than it's paper eqivalent. Mobile should be even shorter. Why?
 

  • Thereā€™s not enough screen real estate for the horizontal sweeps and vertical movement you see on desktop
  • Users view images more than text
  • Create short, strong headlines
  • Create copy that is as long as it needs to be i.e. tighten it
  • Write shorter paragraphs
  • Make your first sentence count - it will be above the fold.

Use the active voice

Most sentences have three parts:

  • Subject (the person, group or thing doing the action)
  • Verb (the action)
  • Object (person, group or thing the action is done to, or impacted by).
     

With the passive voice the subject is acted on.
With the active voice the subject of the sentence performs the action.

Example:
Passive: The book was returned to the library by Maria
Active: Maria returned the book to the libarary

Using the active voice can make writing clearer and more engaging. It can also help reduce word count.


Monitor and measure

Test, test and retest. We can only learn to write copy that works by monitoring and measuring analytics.

Also, make sure your copy works on mobile if your page is responsive.