Estimated time to complete: 10 minutes
Paragraphs will likely make up the bulk of your page content. To make these easier to parse and understand, use the following paragraph-writing tips:
- Use the inverted paragraph – describe the purpose of the page (or the biggest point) within the first paragraph
- Break up long paragraphs – no more than 50 words per paragraph
- Write short sentences – between 20 and 40 words
- To cut down on sentence length, avoid filler words
- Break up the text with bullet points or lists
- Use standalone sentences
- Use active voice and second-person pronouns (ex. addressing the reader directly)
- Stick to simple language and vocabulary that is appropriate to your audience
- Avoid using italics and all caps, when possible
Another way to make good paragraphs is to combine them with good headings.
Besides organizing your page and breaking up paragraphs, headings help make your content scannable, accessible, and searchable.
Scannable: People rarely read Web pages word for word. Instead, readers scan the page and pick out individual words and sentences. Headings help to highlight keywords and sentences and draw readers’ attention to topics and points they might otherwise skim through.
Accessible: As per the AODA regulations, all new content has to be AA WCAG compliant. Headings allow screen-reader and assistive technology users to skim the contents of a page and navigate to or skip over sections.
Searchable: A good heading makes your page searchable in that it contains keywords that are easily detected by search engines.
Not all headings are good headings, though! Here are some tips to make sure that your headings (and sub-headings!) are relevant, appropriate, and useful:
- Use headings that describe the content that they contain
- Keep it short (about 8 words is ideal)
- Don’t sacrifice clarity for the sake of cleverness – even if you have a really good subheading idea, remember that the main goal of your heading should be orienting the user, not amusing them.
- The same goes for prioritizing searchability over usability. Remember that the user’s experience matters much more than their search engine’s experience.
- Place your keywords closer to the front of your heading
- Use proper heading hierarchy (we’ll discuss this more in the next section)
- Do not use a heading as anchor text for a link; the specialized formatting of a heading makes it difficult to tell if it is also link.
In our templates, you can format your headings as heading 2 (H2), heading 3 (H3), or heading 4 (H4). These are not meant to be assigned arbitrarily, but rather follow a proper standard structure of heading placement.
You can visualize each heading as a container. The largest heading, H1, will always be the title, which contains everything on the page. These contents will be split up into sub-headings, H2s, which can also be further divided into H3s and even H4s.
To see this hierarchy in action, scroll back up to the table of contents: each H2 is its own item in the table, with its sub-headings listed underneath.
For an example of how to format a typical page, see our formatting template here.
You can also take note of how our trainings are structured and organized for another example of proper heading hierarchy.
Sometimes empty headings are left on the page, where only HTML heading tags are present, but no heading text.
On the front end, these will usually appear as a blank space, such as the one below:
If you were to look at the HTML content of this page, you would see <h4></h4> for the section above, which means that the heading tags are present, but there is no content between them.
This not only appears to most users like a strange spacing issue, but these tags are typically read by screen-readers, introducing unnecessary confusion to users.
To ensure you have no empty headers on your page:
- Contact us for an accessibility report of your site or scan your pages for suspicious blank spaces.
- Log into your site and edit the page where we reported the error.
- Click on the Text tab to view the HTML that creates your page.
- Search your page (using CTRL+F (Windows) or CMD+F (Mac)) for empty heading tags. These are most likely to be <h2></h2> or <h3></h3> or <h4></h4>.
- When you find them, delete them! You might need to remove a blank line if the empty header was sitting between two paragraphs.