The Principles of Clear, Concise and Error-Free Writing for the Web

Writing for the web requires using clear and concise language. Your online content is read by all types of people – both native and non-native English speakers and those with disabilities. Simple, clear and concise language ensures anyone reading your content understands the message.

Follow these principles to write easy-to-read and error-free online content:

  • Make your message clear.
  • Keep it short.
  • Use direct language.
  • Remove unnecessary words.
  • Eliminate redundancy.
  • Create sentences with one main idea.
  • Include a fact in every sentence.
  • Proofread thoroughly.

Make your message clear

Put the main idea or message first. Instead of providing a ton of background information, get to the point. When online readers scan your content, they want to know what to expect. When your message is clearly stated and prominently located, you give readers the general idea.

Keep it short

Keep words, sentences and paragraphs brief in online content. Use bulleted or numbered lists. Chuck your content. Direct writing is easier to read and understand. It also makes your readers want to read more. This means if you are repurposing offline content, adjust it to create content that is short and to the point.

Use direct language

Keep jargon and other specialized or technical language out of your online content. There may be pieces of content where they are appropriate, but direct language is usually a better choice. Your readers outside certain professions may not understand jargon or may use a different meaning for the same word. Industry buzz words fall into the jargon category too. Using obscure or little-used terminology clouds your intended message instead of clarifying it.

This principle holds true for every word choice you make. Obscure, overly formal or highly academic terminology hurts your message because not all readers may understand it. Likewise, if you use an uncommon acronym, spell it out while providing the acronym the first time it appears.

Remove unnecessary words

Words that aren’t necessary create deadwood in your online content. Adjectives and adverbs are deadwood in many cases. Removing these words shortens and clarifies your content. The context determines if words are unnecessary. Eliminate words that fit these criteria:

  • Words that weaken your message or add unnecessary bulk to sentences
    • Examples: very strong, emphatically right, quite inaccessible – remove “very”, “emphatically” and “quite”
  • Common phrases with redundant words
    • Examples: extra bonus, because of the reason, currently available – remove “extra,” “of the reason” and “currently”
  • Words or phrases at the start of a sentence that bury the important information too far into the sentence
    • Examples: On the same note, Along the same lines, Indeed, In order to, It is important to – remove these phrases entirely

Adjectives and adverbs are often unnecessary when they don’t serve a specific purpose. You can remove many common words without hurting the meaning of your content.

Eliminate redundancy

Remove lengthy phrases or unnecessary wording from your online content to eliminate redundancy. Shorter phrasing is more direct, and using it helps you create clearer copy. You also run the danger of sounding pretentious when you use superfluous words and phrases. Examples of words you can cut out to create clear, reader friendly phrasing include the following:

Use “a few” instead of “a few of the.”
Use “many” or “most” instead of “a large number,” “a large part of,” “a large proportion of” or similar phrasing.
Use “therefore” or “so” instead of “accordingly.”
Use “early” instead of “ahead of schedule.”
Use “because” instead of “as a result of” or “the reason why.”
Use “if” instead of “as long as.”

Create sentences with one main idea

Keep your sentences focused. Every sentence in your online content should focus on one main idea. Multiple clauses or phrases, information stops and excessive commas makes your copy difficult to read and choppy.

Include a fact in every sentence

Give your online readers value with meaty online content. Evaluate every sentence to check for a fact. Filler text, fluff and unrelated material have no place in your content. Avoid creating empty content by cutting any sentence that does not contain at least one fact.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

Producing error-free content requires you to proofread. Repeatedly. Nothing undermines your message faster than spelling errors, grammar mistakes and poor word choice. Producing clean copy is essential whether you earn money writing for or write content for your own site. Edit extensively, and create copy as clean as you can make it. It strengthens your writing, promotes reader confidence in what you write and builds your reputation.