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TL:DR; Tips for Writing Web Content

Dan Miller
Dan Miller

TL;DR is a  sarcastic internet acronym for "too long; didn't read," generally used to lambast loquacious bloggers and opinionated web-forum trolls. But it's also a mantra that should be chanted with each paragraph of web content you write.

An average user will read only about 20% of the words on any given page, randomly culling these words as they hastily scan their eyes across your site. So here are some tips to help format your content in a way to make your users get the most out of their impatient scanning.

  • Keep paragraphs short - about half the same word count you might use for conventional writing.

  • Keep paragraphs narrow - your layout should support no more than 10-20 words per line. It's hard to scan long lines of text. Think of it like cutting up your child's food into bite-sized nuggets. 
  • Convey only one idea per paragraph, since that's all your user will absorb before jumping to the next one.
  • Use bulleted lists, but don't defeat the point by making each bullet as long as a paragraph. Three lines is a reasonable maximum length.
  • Write in an objective style rather than a promotional style. Avoid jargon and marketing fluff. Studies show that this can increase the usability of a site by 27%.
  • Use bold text to emphasize the main points of each bullet in a list. Within longer paragraphs, only use bold to emphasize important notes. Too much bold text on a page will have the same effect as no bold text on a page.
  • Create a visual hierarchy using font-size: Large fonts for intro statements to summarize the page content (inverted pyramid style); Medium fonts as section headers to help organize ideas; and a smaller default font for short paragraphs of detail.
  • Use white space and wide margins to help invisibly compartmentalize content areas. Blank space is not wasted space when it comes to scannability.
  • Keep page layouts consistent. Don't rearrange the furniture in your blind friend's apartment. Your users should know what to expect on every page even if they've never been there before.
  • Use pullquotes to highlight key messages. But keep them short, consistently-placed, and give them wide margins.
  • Make people click for more information so that Type-A personalities can relish in the details while the more typical users can scan and skip.
  • Use Sans-Serif fonts and an increased line-height for better legibility and quicker scannability.
  • When in doubt, delete. Most words are just filler.

For even more tips and information, you can always consult with usability guru Jakob Nielson, although he seems to break just as many web-writing rules as we create. And before anyone comments on this post with a "TL;DR," please note that such obvious jokes have been anticipated and may be politely disregarded. Cheers!

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