Structure the content

Below you’ll find a few characteristics of online readers as well as our recommendations on ways to keep them in mind when writing and editing.

Important information first

Online, users tend to scan text until they find the information they need. No matter how carefully you craft your content, most people will only read 25 percent of it. This statistic isn’t meant to dishearten; rather, we believe it underscores the importance of getting content right.

Put the most important information in the first two paragraphs. That’s the section users are most likely to read. In journalism, this technique is called the “inverted pyramid.”

Break up text

Large chunks of text can overwhelm readers. Use subheads and bullet points; they provide clear narrative structure for readers in a hurry. Put information-carrying words at the beginning of the phrase, and use the active voice.

Instead of:

Looking into the regulation of campaign finances

Use:

Campaign finance law explained

If you’re wrangling a lot of data, tables can help you visualize that content. Long paragraphs cluttered with numbers or dates are more difficult to scan than, for example:

Report type Dates covered Due
Quarterly (Form 3, 3Z, 3L) January 1–March 31 April 15
April 1–June 30 July 15
July 1–September 30 October 15
October 1–December 31 January 31

Don’t use FAQs

Like our peers at GDS, we strongly discourage writing FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions.

FAQs:

  • Are hard to read and search for
  • Duplicate other content on your site
  • Are usually not questions asked by the public
  • Mean that content is not where people expect to find it—it needs to be in context

If you’re thinking about posting FAQs, review the related content on your site and look for ways to improve it. Take the necessary steps to give users the best possible experience.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the content organized in a logical way?
  • Can you group similar topics together?
  • Is it easy to find the right answer?
  • Is it clear and up-to-date?

If people are asking similar questions, the existing content isn’t meeting their needs. Perhaps you need to rewrite it or combine several pieces of content. Pay attention to what users are asking for and find the best way to guide them through the process.