Web Writing @ KerryR.net  

Scannability and Readability in Web Writing

Reading online is 25% slower than reading from printed material, and it's harder on the eyes.

Web users scan for information rather than reading content word-by-word, so we need to break down the text. Use short headings, lists, and short paragraphs to make content more scannable.


Use headings and sub-headings to organise the page into sections and help readers find specific topics and information:


Lists draw the eye, so break down important information into concise list items.

Check long sentences. If there are a lot of commas, colons, and/or semi-colons, try pulling the points out into a list.

Keep the text for each list item short - a 5-line list item isn't a bullet point, it's a paragraph with a bullet in front of it.

  • Have no more than 9 items in a single list.
  • Keep lists to a maximum of two levels.
  • Use numbered lists where the order of entries is important.
  • Use bullet point lists where the sequence of entries isn't important.
  • Ensure each list is introduced by at least one line of text.


Short paragraphs keep content scannable. Many readers will scan only the first sentence of each paragraph - perhaps the first two sentences if they're very short.

  • Get to the point straight away, in the first line.
  • Build each paragraph around a single idea.
  • Paragraphs should be no longer than 40 - 70 words.
  • Paragraphs should be no more than 5 lines.
  • Keep summary paragraphs to 30 - 50 words.
  • Try to vary the size of paragraphs.

Bold Text

Use bold text sparingly.

  • Using bold text for emphasis on the Web is a cheap trick. It looks unprofessional.
  • Don't use bold words inside prose text. Keep bold for headings and - if you absolutely have to use it - restrict bold text to the lead-in at the beginning of a paragraph.
  • If you have to bold text to emphasise words inside a paragraph, the paragraph is probably too long. Try breaking it into two paragraphs (or more).
  • Remember - making everything bold, effectively renders none of it bold.

There's an exception to these rules when highlighting important information. Even then, restrict bold to Note: or Important! and leave the message itself un-bolded.

Block Lettering

Don't shout.

Only use all capital letters if you want to SCREAM at the reader - otherwise, keep it down to a conversational level by restricting capitals to their proper places.

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