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01.07.2011

Writing for the Web – Part 3: the right style

Writing for the Web

Good style is not just a question of taste. This is true for home furnishings just as much as for writing texts for the web. Part Three in the series “Writing for the Web” describes how to become more focused and choose the correct words.

Good and bad taste: the rules of style!

Style is a matter of taste – on the one hand. But on the other hand, there are general rules that you can use to achieve a confident style in your texts while ensuring that they remain neutral:

Write actively
Your aim is to captivate and enthral your readers. You want them not only to start reading, but to continue or even finish reading your text. What is your opinion of the following sentences?'

“The implementation of modern auction systems in the Web is nowadays performed without much effort. The individual auction process has experienced huge acceleration as a result of these systems.”

Pompous? Meaningless? Laborious? Then you agree with the majority of those who participated in a survey conducted by author Ekkehard Schmider in a seminar. Why do we regard the text as stiff, difficult to understand and also boring? This is why:

The syllable “-tion” sounds authoritative!
Whether implementation or acceleration: the author of the sample text has turned strong verbs (implementing, accelerating) into ineffective nouns – he is using a nominal writing style, which usually sounds authoritative. The text sounds like legal jargon and hardly any of your readers on the web are going to find it attractive. It is better to leave out such words and use the original verb instead. This will strengthen your message:

  • “The utilisation of our services is free of charge!” (BAD)
  • “Use our services for free” (BETTER)
  • “Free of charge: benefit from our services!” (GOOD TOO)

Avoid passive constructions!

  • “The software is installed on the computers.”
  • “The software has been installed on the computers.”

It would be better to write: “The programmer installs the software on the computers.”

Don’t use adjectives!
Only use adjectives if they add an important aspect to your statement. Adjectives can quickly become linguistic softeners and reduce the strength of your text. The same applies to superlatives, the highest form of comparison for adjectives. Some web writers even use comparatives or superlatives with absolute adjectives such as “ideal” or “perfect”, as shown in the following examples:

  • “Our product works even more perfectly if...”
  • “The most ideal combination is…”

Negations, negative or imprecise statements are confusing!
Read our first example once again. The author writes “without much effort”. If you express this positively, it would read “with a normal amount of effort”. The implementation is therefore performed with a normal amount of effort – and you are faced with a zero-benefit statement that offers the reader absolutely no added value. An exact statement using man-days, for example, would be better. Precise data and values help readers to understand what you are offering. You’ll be doing them a favour!

Observe these additional rules:

  • Leave out meaningless, empty phrases such as “Your partner for innovation” or “Quality with tradition” and also the much-loved “XYZ and more” (books and more, kitchens and more, software and more)
  • Get rid of any wordiness: in this respect, especially, whereas...
  • Avoid foreign words: INSTEAD OF “Our employees are au fait with modern communications.” BETTER “We know how to handle modern communications.” OR “Our staff is well informed about all areas of modern communications.”
  • Omit any fillers: additionally, so to speak, to a certain extent…
  • Be careful not to exclude non-professionals through the use of specialist terms!

It is admittedly quite difficult to write a text while implementing all this information. However, with a bit of practice you will become focused and the web writing rules will soon become second nature.

A few words on search engines

Now you are able to convey your message to your readers using understandable and well-chosen words. But how do you enable search engines to understand and correctly interpret the content of your pages? We will focus on that topic in the next part of our series Writing for the Web.