Brevity is the Soul of Wit -- and Vital on the Web
Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Why should writing for the web differ from writing for print?

In the mid-1990s, Jakob Nielsen’s usability studies found that only 10% of users were willing to scroll down a page.¹ Content must be very concise to fit “above the fold.” Dense content and longer pages should be reserved for the “meat” of the site, not squandered on welcome messages.

The “meat” of the site should be as lean as possible. Remember that reading onscreen text is about 25% slower than reading printed text.² Users have a limited amount of time to find the information they need, and other websites are only a mouse click away.

Though it is important to write for the medium, the principles of good web writing are not exclusive to the web. Elmore Leonard’s novels may not appear to have much in common with a business website. But although a novel’s readers have implicitly agreed to read a lot of text, brevity has its place. Leonard’s tenth rule of writing is “try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”³ Web users also skip the parts they don’t want to read. Make sure the information you want them to read isn’t something they want to skip.

1. Jakob Nielsen, Designing Web Usability (Indianapolis: New Riders Publishing, 2000), 112.
2. Ibid., 101.
3. Elmore Leonard, “Easy on the Hooptedoodle,” New York Times, July 16, 2001, Books section.