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Keeping it short

Traditional print texts that we may use as source material for writing webpages contain lots of redundant wording that isn’t needed on the web. Here are some tips on text length and how to cut words.

 

Length guidelines

Most of the figures in this table are ceilings (absolute maximums) – not targets to attain.

The rule is always the shorter, the better.

Web page element(all character figures include spaces)

Picture caption

± 120ch (±15 words in English)

<Title> tag

± 70ch (8 -10 words in English)

Heading

± 60ch (8 words in English – ideally 4)

Sentence

120-160ch (15-20 words in English)

Paragraph

320-560ch (40-70 words in English)

Body text

± 2 150ch (350 words in English)

In terms of screens, a web page should ideally be no longer than 4, though this might vary if the page contains tables or large graphics.

 
 

Use short versions, not full official names

No need to spell out the full official titles of people, bodies, laws, agreements and other documents, etc.

Use only the key words/concepts readers need to understand. These should preferably be the words they enter in search engines. And if you can make the name a link, this will take people to the full official title if they need it.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

Titles

UNESCO Convention on the Promotion and Protection of Cultural Expression

UNESCO convention on cultural expression
The essence of the convention is “cultural expression”, nothing more.

Minister for Financial AffairsFinance minister
Ministry for Social Security, Generations and Consumer ProtectionSocial security ministry
(in texts mainly about social security - just use the relevant part of the title

Laws, official documents, programmes, etc.

Regulation (EC) No 689/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 March 2007 establishing and amending the rules on data protection

EU regulation 689/2007 on data protection

White paper on environmental protectionenvironment white paper
In 2002 the Council and the European Parliament adopted a Regulation establishing the European solidarity fund.In 2002 the EU decided to set up a European solidarity fund

Events

The Copenhagen summit on 12 June 2005

The 2005 Copenhagen summit

 
 

Use as few words as possible to express a concept

Wrong approach

Correct approach

EU initiatives aimed at protecting human health from the risks which may be caused by dangerous chemical substances

EU initiatives to protect people from dangerous chemicals.
[50% shorter than the original text]

Where the Commission's services make representations to the authorities of the Member State against which the complaint has been made, they will abide by the choice you have made regarding disclosure of your identity. Where you have not indicated your choice, the Commission's services will presume that you have opted for confidential treatment.

If we have to contact the authorities you complained about, we will keep your identity confidential unlessyou state otherwise.
[64% shorter than the original text]

 
 

Leave out empty phrases

Wrong approach

Correct approach

It is often the case that a complaint is sent…

Complaints are often sent…

The first thing to keep in mind is that you must update your pages regularly …

You must update your pages regularly …

quantities - in the majority/number of cases, a large proportion of, low level/amount/volume/extent of, a total of

many, some, few or most

time phrases - at (the) present (time) / at an early date / in the near future / in the 2008-10 period, period of time / on a monthly basis

now / soon / in 2008-10 / monthly, every month

 
 

Say it once only

Wrong approach

Correct approach

The participants have recognised that […] dialogue between these cultures […] is an essential factor in bringing their peoples closer, promoting understanding between them and improving their perception of each other.

It's enough to simply say e.g. “Dialogue between cultures brings people closer”.

Dialogue and respect between cultures and religions are a necessary pre-condition for bringing the people closer. The mass media can play an important role in the reciprocal recognition and understanding of cultures as a source of mutual enrichment.The original passage says essentially the same thing about 7 times!
 
 

Include only relevant information

Wrong approach

Correct approach

When the “European Economic Area Treaty” (EEA Treaty) came into force on 1st January 1994, and Austria joined the European Union (EU) on 1st January 1995, secondary EC law also took effect in the area of social security (included in this are, in particular, Regulations 1408/71 and 574/72 relative to social security provision for migrant workers).

Social security in Austria is now also covered by EU law (in particular regulations 1408/71 and 574/72 on social security provision for migrant workers).

“Now” is what interests readers - not intricate historical details.

 
 

Long texts on the Web?

If you are using source texts to create your pages, rewrite them to make them concise and scannable. If you can’t or don’t have the time, but still want to place a long text online, it should be in a downloadable/printable format (e.g. PDF) and not just converted into a long scrolling web page (HTML or XML file).

Readers usually prefer to print long texts, for various reasons:

  • Studies show that 25% of web readers read slower online than from print.
  • Reading from a screen tires the eyes (lower screen resolution makes text more blurred).
  • Readers might have limited time online, especially if paying by the minute.

Show that it a file is downloadable by placing the appropriate icon next to it. Display the file size, so users can assess the download time before clicking. A brief summary of the file’s contents will also help users decide whether they want to read it.