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About OVCOJP SealMessage From the DirectorOVC Publishing Guidelines for Print and Web MediaNCJ 205247 / August 2004
Submission DeadlinesSubmission RequirementsPublishing ProcessProduct TypesWriting for PrintWriting an E-Pub
  Scan Reading
  Page Length
  Content Chunking
Formatting References/EndnotesCopyright & Policy RequirementsHome
Writing an E-Pub

How To Write for the "Scan Reader"

Online audiences tend not to read word for word. Instead, they "scan read" subheads, links, and lists for information that applies specifically to them. Therefore, e-pub authors should—

Lead With the Main Idea

Place the key overall ideas first on each Web page. Then go into detail. Again, explain the most important details first.

This writing style is often called the inverted pyramid. It ensures that no matter where on the page users stop reading, they will have read the most important information.

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Use Subheads Frequently

Subheads make text more readable and point readers to specific information. This means subheads should be used often (every 1–3 paragraphs), and they should be more specific than "Introduction" or "Project History." Such generic subheads tell online readers little and encourage them to simply scan over the material. Likewise, subheads that use puns or teasers are ineffective.3

Examples of specific headlines—

  • Crime Victims Demand Compensation
  • Standard Form Streamlines Case Management
  • Effort Targets Schools With High Crime Rates

The most effective subheads provide enough information that reading the section becomes optional. Says McAlpine, "Write headings like newspaper headlines: a summary of what is to come."4

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Use Bullet Lists To Itemize Information

Effective bullet lists are brief:

  • Entries are short.
  • The list is limited to no more than 5–6 bullets.
  • Entries are related in some way.
  • Entries briefly describe the type of information that links within them contain (e.g., the Principles of Effective Web Writing).

To shorten a bullet list that is too long—

  • Combine some bullets, if possible.
  • Reorganize the bullets into several lists.

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This document was last updated on August 20, 2004