Web Standard: Writing for the Web
Writing for the web is using plain language with your audience in mind. Writing for the web is ensuring that content is organized so that it is scannable on screen and answers your audience’s top tasks in a way that they can understand. Headers and links are particularly important, as visitors rely on them when scanning the page.
Write for Your Audiences
- Clearly define top audiences and top tasks for each page. Ensure that the content addresses the interests and tasks for your top audiences. Learn how to define purpose, audience and top tasks when developing web content.
Choose Words Carefully
- Use familiar words and short phrases, keeping your audience in mind.
- Avoid unexplained jargon.
- Capitalize only proper nouns.
- Follow standard rules of grammar and punctuation and EPA style guidelines. EPA follows the AP Stylebook first, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual second.
- Write for an 8th-grade reading level on pages for non-technical audiences. SiteImprove report or Word can tell you about the reading level of your content. Learn how to access and use SiteImprove.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. Aim for no more than 25 words per sentence, 70-75 words per paragraph.
- Use active voice. Write “the board proposed the legislation” not “the regulation was proposed by the board.”
- Make text timeless (e.g. avoid words like recently or today, etc.).
- Do not create strings of more than three nouns or adjectives in a row (called compound adjectives, or noun sandwiches). Examples of noun sandwiches:
- Everglades Construction Project Stormwater Treatment Area National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Watershed Permit and Supporting Documentation
- Five Year Review Community Training Module Speaker Notes
- Use unique page titles so search engines and visitors can easily find your content.
- Do not use words like More, Additional, Other, Related or Further at the start of page titles.
Design the Page for Scanning Using Headers
- Break up the webpage content into sections. Headings should accurately describe the content of each section of the page.
- Follow the Headings Web standard.
- Use anchor links to help visitors navigate longer pages.
- Follow the On this Page/Table of Contents Web standard.
- Place the information that is most important to your audience at the beginning of the page and then provide additional details further down.
- Use bulleted and/or numbered lists wherever you have a series, list, or sequence of three or more items or points.
- If a list is more than 7 items, it is preferred to add subheadings to break up content for readability.
- Use link text that matches or closely matches the title of the page or page section it takes visitors to. Do not use “More info” or “Learn more” as link text.
- Use descriptive terms to tell visitors what they’ll get before they click on a link (for example, report, testimony, brochure, etc.).
- When linking to other file formats, follow this format: Document Title (DOCX), including the file extension in the link (video or audio, PDF, DOC, etc.).
- Links outside of epa.gov must meet the requirements set out by the External Site Links procedure.
- Do not use the website address (URL) for link text unless you are trying to get your visitor to remember the URL (AirNow.gov).
- Avoid using in-line links. Instead, add links below or beside the content as an additional, descriptive sentence.
- When linking to related content, send visitors to the most specific, topically relevant webpage (and not a web area homepage).
- Avoid linking to the same content more than once on a page. If you must, use the same descriptive, clear, link text for both links.
- Do not use the same link text for different links on the same page.
About this Standard
Original effective date: 01/01/2004
Last approved on: 08/12/2020
Web Council review by: 08/12/2023 (or earlier if deemed necessary by the Web Council)