10.1 Writing a page of text
Assume the reader knows nothing about FAO
Try and put yourself in the position of someone who has no background knowledge of FAO or the work that you do. Therefore:
Assume this page is the first page a user encounters
Always assume that any page of your Web site might be the first page a user reads. Users will rarely begin reading a Web site from the home page and continue reading in a linear way as they would with a book. The majority will be referred to your pages from a search engine or from an external link and they will often not arrive via the home page. Therefore:
Writing for the Web is not as simple as copying and pasting text from documents designed to be read in hard copy. People read and use text on the screen in a very different way from printed text.
To understand why Web writing is different from writing for print, consider the following:
Our content is very important, we fear that brevity might lead to lack of gravitas, we need lots of text to explain the subject more deeply. What can we do?
The Web is an active medium so forcing people to scroll down pages is time-consuming and annoying. Place a resources box near your text that lists additional documents and Web sites. The user will select in-depth information if they want it. Also, keep asking yourself "Is this really a need-to-know piece of information?"
Avoid a rambling first paragraph
There is a tendency at FAO to begin a Web page with a large rambling introductory text, which is largely unrelated to the topic on the page. An example could be a page entitled "What is the SPFS?" which begins, "In 1996, the Director-General of FAO met with heads of state to discuss poverty issues, etc." What should be written instead is, "The SPFS was created in 1996 to improve food security in poor countries." In your first paragraph remember the golden rule of writing - what, when, why and where. If you can answer at least two of these questions in the first sentence of your paragraph, you are doing your audience a huge favour.
Stick to the point - do not digress
If your Web page is entitled "Animal-borne diseases and FAO" stick to talking about how FAO works in the animal-borne disease sector, do not begin a long treatise on river blindness in West Africa. Keep referring back to the title.
The subject has many synergies with other areas of FAO's work and other departments, it is very trans-boundary in nature, we work with regional offices too, we need to show that in the text. What can we do?
Briefly mention the partners you work with and the inter-linking subjects but do not give each one its own lengthy paragraph. Use a resources box near your text to link to additional documents, country office and partner Web sites where the subject may be mentioned.