Writing for the Web Requirements

This page lists requirements for writing content for the EPA website.

Key points:

  • If you think you're ready to publish your page, remove at least 50% of the words.
  • Make it immediately clear why (or for whom) the page exists.
  • Make it scannable.  Area headings and links should be visually distinct and meaningful.
  • Write in plain, direct language.  Use active voice.  Do not write above an 8th-grade level.
  • Write for the target audience.

Use Less Text

  • Fact: No matter how good your content,
    • your users will not read your web page.  They will only scan it.
    • you’re using too many words. Edit harshly.

Why does this page exist?  Focus, focus, focus.

  • Be sure to communicate to your users why your content is important for them.
    • Start with a single, short statement.
    • The most important content on your page should appear first.
  • Focus your content only on the purpose of the page.

Make your content scannable

  • Users scan for area headings and links – make sure these are visually distinct.
    The first level of headings should be coded in <h2>.  See the Headings section of the Web Style Guide for more information.
  • Make sure the text of area headings and links clearly conveys meaning – it may be the only text the user reads on the entire page.
  • Use bulleted (unordered <ul>) or numbered (ordered <ol>) lists wherever you have a series, list, or sequence. 
  • Avoid lists that are more than seven or eight items.  If lists are longer, break them into sublists.

Say what you mean.  Be direct.

  • Be clear and concise. (Is something a guidance or law? Guideline or requirement?)
  • Use plain language.
    • Do not write above an 8th-grade level.
    • Avoid:
      • jargon unless it is absolutely crucial.
      • strings of nouns (e.g. "EPA Communications Styleook Writing Guide Chapter") and
      • overly complex compound adjectives (e.g. "chemical warfare agent contaminated environmental samples" when you mean "environmental samples contaminated by chemical warfare agents").
  • Always use the active voice.
  • Paragraphs should not contain more than 50 words; sentences should not contain more than 15 words.
  • Fewer syllables per word are preferable when possible.
  • Make text timeless (e.g. avoid words like recently or today, etc.).
  • Be grammatical.  Use ampersands correctly.  Capitalize only proper nouns.  Spell out numbers under 10.  Read all the rules in the Writing Guide chapter of the EPA Communications Stylebook.

Links

  • Users need to understand what they’ll get before they click on a link. Links should not say "Click Here" or "More…".
  • Link text and the page title of destination page should match or closely match.
  • Don't bury links -- especially short links -- in the middle of a paragraph where your visitors may not see them as they skim down the page.
  • If the link does not go to a web page (HTML), indicate the type of file/format that is behind the link (video or audio, document download, etc.).

Print Products

  • Do not put up print products as HTML without modifying the content for the web.
  • Use fewer words than in the print version.  Add appropriate links for the web version.