News Article Design: 20 Tips For Good Web Copy

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Clean is better. Eye-tracking studies say so. Web copy should be bulleted, concise, easy. Photos should be informative, not decorative. White space is good. And guys like looking at George Brett’s protective cup.

You weren’t expecting that last part were you?

I wasn’t either. But this post on effective news article design proves it.

Newspapers have had trouble transitioning from print to the Web. They’re used to doing things differently.

Me, too. I still write difficult, dense copy. See. I still like serif fonts better, too. I also have a pen collection and a wall map fetish. Because I’m old school sometimes.

Well, most of the time.

Laura Ruel and Nora Paul (link above) interviewed people from Nielsen/Norman group about readability and user satisfaction and comprehension.

They said users spent more time reading wordy content, but remembered 34 percent less than when they read really tight copy.

That’s because of the way people read on the Internet. It’s the same reason designers on the Internet use sans serif fonts –so you can read faster.

"If a user is comfortable," said Nielsen researcher Tara Coyne, "not hindered by clutter and superfluous words, and can scan the main points, he will get the summary of the article quickly and easily."

Superfluous is superfluous, but it’s not her fault, she’s an academic type. It’s also otiose, but we’ll just call it ‘excessive,’ because it’s easier.

Ruel and Paul said people don’t really look at pictures, either, unless they’re pictures of real people and not models. People like pictures that give them information. They skip pictures that are just there to be pretty.

Also, women might be telling the truth when they say size doesn’t matter. All the men in the eye-tracking study fixated on George Brett’s…strike zone. But women didn’t. Not at all.

So, add this to the other things we know about Web copy and design. Here’s a short list to help you remember, bulleted and subtitled like it’s supposed to be.

20 Things To Remember For Good Web Copy

1.    Tight writing. That doesn’t mean bad or easy writing.

2.    Copy of about 600-800 words is better for SEO and catching the long tail of search.

3.    Title – Subject – Support, in that order, like subject, verb, object.

4.    Titles should be snappy and informative – clickable, but clear.

5.    Leads (first sentence or paragraph) should get to the point. Tell the reader what the article’s about first thing.

6.    No fancy, wordy intros where it’s not clear what you’re talking about. 

7.    Information beats fluff every time. Pretty is for books and newspapers (and only sometimes).

8.    Information does not beat style every time. Style keeps people awake.

9.    Sans serif fonts are easier and faster to read on computer screens.

10.    White space is awesome – even better than big, pretty pictures.

11.    Content should be scannable.

12.    Think in bullets and subtitles.

13.    People like lists.

14.    Pictures should be specific and informative, not generic, decorative and ad-like.

15.    Photos should be relevant to content.

16.    People in pictures should look friendly and approachable (and have their whole head).

17.    Photos should be full body if possible (so guys can check out packages and stuff).

18.    Spell stuff right. It makes you look smarter.

19.    Grammar IS important. Unless you’re not really a professional.

20.    Online press releases should be even tighter than Web copy.

Currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree, Jason Lee Miller received his bachelor’s degree in Communication, emphasizing in script writing for mass media. Jason is also certified in print journalism by the Kentucky Press Association.

News Article Design: 20 Tips For Good Web Copy
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  • Anonymous

    4. Titles should be snappy and informative

    • Anonymous

      why not mention key words in relation to SEO if you want to give some useful advise.

      And – why would you not want a site with an artistic layout.

      Hasn’t the power of color and design proven itself yet? Why would the web be any different?

      Have you not even visited CSS Zen Garden?

  • Anonymous

    Guys like looking at George Brett’s protective cup? I guess you mean “gay” guys.

    • Jason Lee Miller

      you really gotta click that link and go to the report on the eye-tracking study. scroll down and you’ll see a comparison of men and women and how long they fixated on certain areas of the pictures of George Brett.

      Men in the study focused on his face and his crotch. Women focused on the face only. . . that’s what i get for crackin’ jokes i guess. . .

      And I guess the bulleted simple style didn’t really help with reading comprehension like the study said it would…

      Titles should be snappy and informative – clickable, but clear.

      Not necessarily…the title should entice the reader to proceed.

      So, if it’s snappy, informative, clickable and clear, it doesn’t entice the reader to proceed? My bad. Guess I should have said titles should be boring, irrelvant,  and confusing

      7. Information beats fluff every time. Pretty is for books and newspapers (and only sometimes).

      No, this is not true at all. If the readers attention is not secured with ‘fluff’ as you call it, they won’t be around to read the information.

      See number 8:

      8.    Information does not beat style every time. Style keeps people awake.

      there’s a difference between style and fluff

      14. Pictures should be specific and informative, not generic, decorative and ad-like.

      This is not true either. This is not product documentation.

      Statement is based on the findings of the study. All participants ignored irrelevant, decorative pics.

      16. People in pictures should look friendly and approachable (and have their whole head).

      Where does this come from? Great photographers intentionally crop heads, hands and other body parts to create tension and contrast.

      Great photographers do do this, which is why they are great. It’s hard to do without the pic being disturbing. Where did it come from? Journalism and broadcast school, and from the study mentioned. Where do you get your ideas?

      17. Photos should be full body if possible (so guys can check out packages and stuff).

      Is this the kind of thing you want to be writing in a public article? Surely this could have been worded appropriately.

      It was a joke, related the George Brett picture, and a joke I apparently didn’t pull off well. Comedy is hard. Sorry if I offended you, but I think you should lighten up. It’s just a package.

      18. Spell stuff right. It makes you look smarter.
      19. Grammar IS important. Unless you’re not really a professional.

      When writing and article on copy you may like to review your grammer. It really hurts your credibility and invalids your otherwise great advice.

      When criticizing someone’s grammar, you should review your spelling…and your verb conjugation. It really INVALIDATES your pettifoggery.

      Using a sentence fragment is a stylistic choice, by the way. Not all grammatical rules are non-negotiable.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that the information in this article is very useful. It is full of basic generalizations which will hardly enlighten the most grievous of common sense offenders. What about touching on topics such as the overuse of exclamation marks or choosing a tone which supports the company brand?

    Webpronews.com contradicts many of the nuggets of advice you shared:

    8. Information does not beat style every time. Style keeps people awake.
    (Damn near every button, header, and content box is following a different style guide. Awake is one thing, insomnia is quite another.)

    10. White space is awesome

  • Anonymous

    Great little article about good web design

    • Bill the web guy

      Actually the best way is to use em’s they are relative too but to how the letter “M” is in size in a browser. This works in all browser unlike the medium or small which looks different in Firefox than IE. Just something I learned using CSS for cross browser compatibility.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed the article – felt it had valuable information and would have liked to print it out. I couldn’t find a way to put it in a printable format.

    • Jason Lee Miller

      Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed it. You were the one I was writing it for. :)

      If you want to print it, look up next my "chipper" mugshot and you’ll see options to "comment," "email," or "print."

      Did you guys see that Lady In The Water movie? I might have been the only one, because none of the critics seemed to like it. Anyway, there’s a really funny part in it where the book critic gets eaten by the monster. He’s the only one that dies in the whole movie (Shayamalan wanted to be a writer).

      Anyway, just thought it was funny.

  • Anonymous

    Yes checking out packages is good :P

  • Anonymous


    It is my favorite Theme
    I like Design
    I like very much Colors
    The Content might be excelent but i want
    it looks like Atractive
    Both goes together:Content and Design/colors

    I don’t agree whit You

    Thank you
    Slavica Todorovic

  • Anonymous

    This is the most helpful article I have seen in your journal. I’m not a commercial web-master; I do a non-profit expose-site and it’s only in straight html (quick loading and fewer bandwidth charges).

    I hang everything off a picture-link on the front page — 2.5 gigs worth of data; no frames at all. And everything gets re-arranged once in a while, just on a whim on my part. After all, this is a $10 a month web-site, right?

    My 7K per day attendance is sufficient to show me that people are interested in the information I present. But now that I have the rules for copy, I think I can do even better.

    Emily Cragg

  • Anonymous

    He’s either a rank amateur, an idiot or both.

  • Anonymous

    I have mixed feelings about this study. As a graphic designer, I don’t disagree with most of the findings, but I worry about the effect it will have on web design in the coming years. The study seems to be aimed specifically at article-based writing, and while many of its findings can be useful elsewhere, I can imagine this article being misunderstood as design dogma instead of good rules of thumb.

    For instance, is the fact that viewers spend less time looking over an image than the time they spend on text a bad thing, a “waste of space”? I’d argue no. The effect of an image is extremely difficult to quantify in such a study.

    I’m not surprised that viewers generally spent less time on images. Images are more easily digested, usually requiring little more than a simple glance. A 600 page graphic novel may take exponentially less time to read than a similarly sized book of text.

    Images affects a person, not only on a informative, factual level, but also in a subconscious, persuasive fashion. Companies pay Madison Avenue the big bucks to make you think that Coke is fun, or that you’ll be sexier in Abercrombie jeans. This can all be communicated without saying a single word. Sometimes, the less attention paid to such an image, the better, so it can bore deep into your subconscious without you even noticing.

    These principles are applicable to more than just advertising. Good design can create a sense of trust in content, just as a fashionable suit can get you farther along in your career. An innovative, creative design can draw attention to a product or make a site stand out from the competition, like the reworked Volkswagen Beetle a few years back, or more recently, the iPod. Both products performed their functions admirably (usability), but their exciting new forms (design) made consumers pay attention in the first place.

    Creative visual design and strong usability are difficult qualities to balance. A good amount of creative tension between these two creates a stronger product, but domination by either value can make the resultseither overindulgent or dull as hell.

    Steve Galgas
    Portland, OR

  • Anonymous

    I was not sure I would find this newsletter to be informational, but I was mildly amused by it. I actually laughed out loud a few times. I truly appreciate learning the new word. Will try to use it in Scrabble. Personnally I think any new bit of information on the web is helpful and some of your critics need to chill out and get real. After all we are all just human.

  • Anonymous

    Yes,this just seems like basic English,good grammar,spelling,layout of a topic. Im over 50 and my daughter is learning 8th grade English, how to write a story,article and such. Spelling is very important,not a lot of abreviations,accronyms or poorly structured sentences. This type of stuff we learned in elementary school, if you go to college it is expected that you know it.
    Even if your readers are not well educated it is just easier to read. If it is too technical or intellectual who wants to wade through that? Thanks for the basics.
    Sandra Evans,an aspiring online website owner and builder for 2cleannatural.com

  • Anonymous

    I think your wrong, what’s wrong with originality who cares about pictures unless its attractive to the eye that’s only natural. If we all use the same type of format like is suggested here everything will become boring or the same ole hat. Stick with originality and make things look the way you feel they should look, and if you can’t spell, like me use spell checker. Clean is not better its only formatted to ones ideas. Be original its your signature.

  • Anonymous

    All the instant news and more.. the problem with ‘news’ these days is you have to hype everything up, to get anyone to read it, or pay attention. This story is a prime example.

    Guys are looking at the ‘strike zone’, because they actually pay attention to what’s going on in a baseball game. I have a hard time believing anyone is looking at his cup… just happens that the ball travels through the same area. Women are looking at the batter’s head, because they don’t realize they’re supposed to watch the strike zone…

    More media hype. Ridiculous hype.

  • Anonymous

    There is an apparent contradiction between

  • Anonymous

    Yes, concise Information who looks clear and clean is easy to read. And friendly guys, yes, why not.
    But I like Design and Sites where I want come back always again, because it’s a living Presentation. Many Sites look as the Webmaster has forgotten them.
    Old Phone-numbers and more…

  • Anonymous

    These copy tips are spot on!

    As a web copywriter, I have to follow these simple ‘rules’, but one other essential thing is hypnotic copy. Choosing powerful, compelling words is the key to convertible copy. Another vital rule is strong calls to action – you need to make your readers WANT to click that ‘Click Here Now!’ link at the bottom of your article.


  • Anonymous

    I’m the owner of http://www.ajediam.com
    Can somebody help me to write the right copy and eliminate similar content on different pages?
    Thanks a lot!

  • Anonymous

    What a great article – I hope more people read this and do something about their web copy. Although I feel my website is a little “simple”, I do feel it is clean and easy to navigate without all the fluff. Before designing and publishing my website I spent a lot of time looking at other websites to decide what I liked, and how easy it is on the eye, and tried to put myself in a visitor’s position.

    If you have any other advice, it would be much appreciated.

    More articles like this, please.

    Nicky Jones

  • Anonymous

    18. Spell stuff right. It makes you look smarter.

    But this is where things can get confusing, for example there are american webmasters who will attempt to correct another webmaster about spelling mistakes when the other person has been using British English and the spelling has infact been fine for British English.

    Of course some webmasters using US English will swear that they are correct, end of story, but thats a bit ignorant to think that way.

    So it is not so simple as just saying to use correct spelling, more has to be taken in account regarding this before any writing is actually done.

    • Jason Lee Miller

      Yeah, you’re right. Spelling is tricky, especially in regards to standard American English (a relatively new invention courtesy of Webster, who wanted at the time to spell "women" as "wimmin" — he wanted English simplified).

      But I think that there is forgiveness out there for this variation, and a growing understanding, especially in this globally connected time, that spellings can vary.

      And while that’s true, there are definite wrong ways to spell things. For example, "definite," if spelled according to some phonetic structures, can come out "defanite" or worse, IMO, "defanit" … and that’s where the problem comes in, making an author look unprofessional, ignorant, or rushed…rushed is usually the correct answer as time is essential and editors are often scarce. I’ve been known to accidentally misspell because of incidental letter omission, or the bane of my linguistic mastery, because there are so many homophones — words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

      there they’re their

      compliment complement

      et cetera (abbrieviated "etc." not "ect."

      letter omissions and homophones are more forgivable because I think everybody has trouble with those at times…but it should be evident that an attempt to be correct is there.

      That’s if your site or blog is professional in nature. If it’s just personal, a profile page, or whatever, who really cares if the spelling and grammar are perfect?

      Pros are different though, and my most snap-judgmental side rears its ugly head when I see really sloppy copy. One or two mistakes — no problem — 8 to 10 mistakes — problem

      That’s not to say I always get it right, but I do try.


  • Anonymous

    The tips are very important and appropriate especially the tip on correct Grammar, and I think, SPELLING too.

  • Anonymous

    it would be nice to see a printer icon at the end of your email articles making an easy, obvious way of printing them without the ads etc that take up a good portion of the email

  • Anonymous

    I am 48 years old and I know darn well that I didn’t pay attention in school, but what is tight writing? I have heard of verbs, nouns, proper names and even dangling modifiers but never tight writing.


    • Jason Lee Miller

      Sorry, sometimes lingo is just lingo isn’t it?

      If writing is tight, it means that it’s not what writers call "flabby" with a lot of adjectives and adverbs and flowery long, winding sentences that lose the reader before the end. Tight writing is direct, simply (but artfully) worded, and gets to the point.

      A lot of people will contrast Hemmingway and Faulkner for an example…or the difference between elegant and ostentacious (sp?)…if that makes sense.




  • Anonymous

    Who can do copywriting for my Web site and eliminate duplicate text and pages?


    E-mail: janhuts@ajediam.com


  • Anonymous

    Have to say I agree! Keep it clean, concise and to the point. Very important to also have a uniform website.

  • Anonymous

    Informative. Good to know, Thanks, Alisa Lyons

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a tighter set of instructions for writing online press releases (listed, with plenty of whitespace)!


  • William Patterson

    I have to say this is the first time I have come across an article that is 100% right on. So many sites think that flash and cool graphics are going to be what we all want to see….wrong! How about the idea that the Internet is a place to find information…first and foremost. Everything else is just eye candy and we don’t have the time to pay much attention. Look at how people read the newspaper in the morning. They look for eye catching headlines and then they only read about the first paragraph. Even less if it is about sports. They want to know who won and if there was anything worth reading further about. Fonts are a big thing too. So many sites are trying to test out eyes! Simple is better if you want to convey information. Even Utube trys to stay very direct….gaudy but direct. Pretty hard to miss the video screen!
    Thanks again for saying it like it should be.

  • robinanderson86@hotmail.com

    Information should be immediately useable timely, and provocative.

  • faotui Pese

    what are doin today

  • bill

    What you are describing and what your advice is directed toward is a sort of ‘dumbed down’ writing. A way of writing for the crowd-signage.

    I think it’s a result of the Internet played as a numbers game, where clicks measure merit. It has to do with what is available to measure in site stats and eye-scanning studies.

    What is missing is what is harder to measure. How well are you engaging and communicating emotionally with your readers?

    Here is raw information: 15478. Clear. Concise. Crap.

    The plain fact is that good writing, writing that I want to read, is hard. Because it’s hard, not many people can do it well. And because not many people do it well, we get these recipe books to tell us- the less talented- how to construct something passable but bland.

    Look to what you like to read. Look to that site that you return to again and again because it transports you, grips your mind and invigorates your spirit. Then emulate it. Too often we write right, but we don’t say anything worth hearing.


  • Guest
  • http://intellectualhooligan.blogspot.com Billicatons

    Spot on. This is a useful, entertaining article … Practically everything it says rings true.

    I am amused by the fact that (at time of commenting) the article is accompanied by a gigantic, false-grinning stock photoed ad on the right.

    One further suggestion for the top 20: use humour. Or humor, if that’s your bag.

    The comic elements of this article enhanced the reading experience without detracting from its message.

  • http://www.justbuygreen.com green Products

    "Think in bullets and subtitles." That is my favorite line!

  • http://fabricpainter.blogspot.com/ Artist

    The guest comment above is right on when it comes to many factors. The internet is a highly visual place, people expect more videos, pictures and color than ever before. To say clean and white is “in” is ……..wrong, so very wrong. The internet is a fast paced and highly dynamic world that is changing every day. Take a look at Twitter and Podcasting they are the wave of the future of writing and advertising.

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