Writing for the Web 101: Lose That Lawyer-Speak

Categories: Legal Website Design.

While most legal professionals are excellent writers, they aren’t accustomed to writing for a web audience. The way readers digest information online is very different than the way people read legal documents or printed materials.

Readers online are in a hurry and want their information quickly and to the point. You can help them out by organizing your content carefully, breaking ideas into small paragraphs, using images and text formatting to enhance concepts, and writing in a conversational and welcoming manner.

Internet Scanners, Not Readers

According to a study done by the Nielsen Norman Group, only 16% of people read website text thoroughly; 79% of readers will instead scan a page quickly for crucial information. Your readers won’t read your website with the same patience that you give legal documents. If paragraphs are too long, legal jargon is too frequent or the tone is too academic, readers will quickly leave for friendlier pastures.

While we agree that lawyer websites may be a special case, it is still possible to strike a balance between appealing to your clients and representing your professionalism. Instead of unleashing your impressive vocabulary on unsuspecting website visitors, consider instead anticipating your ideal client’s needs, and addressing them in a friendly, helpful and succinct way.

You can make your content reader-friendly using the following tactics:

Summarize and Prioritize

Put your most important ideas at the top of the page, and in the first sentence of every paragraph. Readers appreciate brief summaries at first, and greater detail later.

Organize for Clients, Not For You

It’s essential that your website, pages and even paragraphs are well-organized. Consider what questions clients have when they approach your business, and create a path of ideas for them to follow. Always end this path at your contact page. Use ideas that they are comfortable with and avoid categories that the average person wouldn’t understand.

To Keep Your Visitors, Keep It Simple

Write as simply and as briefly as possible. With the unlimited resources of the web, readers don’t need to wade through your dense content. They can leave and be on a competitor’s website within moments. Avoid hyperbole or overly promotional language as well, and keep your tone conversational and friendly.

Use Lists

Readers love lists. Why do they love lists?

  • They provide information on a very specific idea.
  • They are brief and easy to read.
  • They are clearly organized and structured.
  • They provide relief from blocks of text.
  • They contain ideas that are simple to remember and share.

Highlight, Enlarge, and Bold Important Ideas

Help visitors scan your text by highlighting important ideas. This is especially important for headers, but is also relevant in blocks of text. Bold, highlight, italicize, and enlarge text—tastefully, please.

A short sentence on its own can be surprisingly attention-grabbing.

Add Images and Videos

For those who get tired by too much text, add some explanatory images or videos to help readers understand the point you’re trying to make. Complement your photos with captions for an even better effect.

Link to Useful Resources

Prove that you have your readers’ best interests at heart by sharing useful resources with them. Some might advise that you avoid linking out of your website for fear of losing your visitor. That’s like refusing to introduce your friends to new people for the fear of losing a friend! By sharing useful information, you will gain more respect and trust from your readers.

Those are our tips for increasing readability on your website. It may be difficult at first to switch between print and web writing styles, but your readers will thank you for it, and so will we.