Scannable content

The volume of content available to customers is overwhelming. Part of a writer's job is to help readers find what they need quickly, or recognize just as quickly when they're not where they need to be. Writing to facilitate scanning will help.

Organize text into discrete components to support scanning. This section describes some of the methods you can use:

How you write is equally important to scanning.

Put first things first

Content on the first screen (also called above the fold) is the most likely to be read. Many readers won’t scroll further without a compelling reason. So as always, keep it short, and lead with what’s most important to the customer. Keep in mind that what appears above the fold varies by device and screen resolution.

Numerous studies have shown that readers look at specific areas of a page first. In left-to-right languages, people read in an F shape, giving the most attention to the upper-left corner of a page. Put your most important information there. Or try placing an offer or a Buy or Download button there. If the navigation is on the left, put your most important information in the upper-left corner of the text pane.

Be brief, be bold, be clear

Long spans of dense text are daunting and unapproachable to readers. Write short headings, short sentences, and short paragraphs that are easy to read—and more visually appealing.

  1. Use short, simple words.
  2. Get to the point.
  3. Then stop.

Include navigation within long documents

In general, keep web content short. When you have a great, customer-focused reason to create longer content, provide readers with at least one way to navigate within it, so they can quickly get to what they need.

  • If you're developing content for a collection, such as the MSDN or TechNet libraries, break the content up into sections so that information is easy to find in the library navigation.

  • In a longer document that's likely to be read online, even if it’s a downloadable Word document or PDF file, include a table of contents with links to subheadings.

  • Add Back to top links at the end of sections.

Establish patterns in content

Consistent writing, design, and formatting create patterns, which help readers comprehend more efficiently. Apply these tactics throughout your content to create familiar landmarks for your readers:

  • Lead with what's most important. Place important keywords near the beginning of headings, table entries, and paragraphs so they're easy to spot.

  • Use text formatting consistently, such as using bold in procedures to identify UI labels. To learn more, see Text formatting.

  • Apply the same sentence structures to similar information. For example, use prepositional phrases consistently in procedures to help customers navigate menus and dialog boxes. And use the same syntax for cross-references and other common content elements.

Writing tip When comparing things, use parallel sentence structures to describe each thing. Write headlines and bulleted list items using the same sentence structure, too.

Give paragraphs room—and keep them short

Paragraphs usually have extra space between them. How much extra space depends on the size of the font. The minimum is usually 50 percent of the line spacing, or at least half the font size.

Short paragraphs, like this one, help to break up long passages of text. Three to seven lines is about the right length for a paragraph.

It’s also fine to have a single-line paragraph now and then.