News Article Design: 20 Tips For Good Web Copy

    March 14, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

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.