Readability rules for subscription websites

Making your online newsletter easier to read is a matter of both writing style and formatting technique. Here are some helpful hints.

Stage the content.
Introduce your site with concise descriptions on the main page, then present a list of departments.

Each hypertext link choice should lead to articles, columns, or other important information.

Set up your content so that readers can get to the meat without wasting time. Clicking through pages of fluff or obvious information frustrates readers.

Graphics are the spice of a website, but use them sparingly. Less is more.

Focus your writing.
Aim for short, concise paragraphs and simple sentence structure. When possible, write in the present tense and active voice, using short, familiar words.

Write in the inverted paragraph style, beginning with the general and moving toward the more specific and complex.

Always reread and edit. Make certain every page delivers useful content. Your subscribers are generally looking for you to do their research, “net it out” and publish your conclusions concisely.


Use links strategically.
Highlighted links and subheads add structure and ease of navigation. If you want to keep your members reading your content instead of clicking away, don’t introduce the links to other websites until the end of your article.

Narrow the line length.
Create columns or add navigation panels or images to make the line length narrow and easier to read. Strive for 10 pt. type and no more than about 155 characters maximum. Much longer than that and the eye has difficulty reading online text.

Choose a san-serif typeface.
The rules for reading on a computer screen seem to be just the opposite from the rules for reading printed text. Sans-serif typefaces such as Arial, Verdana and Tacoma work best online. Serif typefaces such as Times Roman, Garamond, and Georgia are more readable in print.

Use graphics to illustrate the content.
Graphics are the spice of a website, but you must use them sparingly. Less is more.

Limit your graphics, both in number and in file size, to speed download time.

Assume readers will print your pages.
Many readers print hard copies for reference. Make sure your web pages will print on standard computer printer paper without being cut off on the edges.

If possible, offer a “printer friendly version” page option.


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