Editorial Style

Universal usability demands an operable interface and accessible content. But for a Web site to be truly useful to all, it requires accessible language. Information must be presented in a manner that is usable and understandable.

Online readers approach Web text with specific methods and objectives. Some users skim a page to form an overview of the available information and options; others skim a page in search of specific information. Some read the information presented on the page, while others print Web pages and read them offline.

Web documents can be structured to support skimming in a number of ways. First, skimming works best when information is broken into segments. A single topic can be broken across several pages, and each page further broken into subsections. Editorial landmarks, such as headings and lists, can be used to emphasize important words and phrases. Skimming is further enhanced when the most visible elements—headings, links, lists—begin with key words and concepts.

The Web comes with a global audience that is impossible to accurately define. Web sites often have an intended audience, but the actual audience is almost certainly much broader. As a result, the best approach to writing for the Web is to write clearly and concretely, avoiding needless complexity and chatter. To address the diversity of a global audience, clarify concepts and terminology that may not be apparent to all users. Adopt a writing style and vocabulary and apply it consistently.

From a markup perspective, HTML provides a few simple tools to clarify text usage. Use the ABBR and ACRONYM tags to describe abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms, and the LANG attribute to identify words, phrases, or paragraphs that are other languages.