Web writing basics: frontloading
Frontloading is a writing technique in which the most important, “big-picture” information is provided first, followed by additional details. This post covers how to successfully frontload content to make it easier for online users to understand and scan your writing.
Why to frontload
Frontloading makes it easier for users to scan a webpage to see if it is relevant for their needs. Nobody likes to waste their time, so if you make it clear in the first line or paragraph exactly what the page is about, users can quickly decide whether they want to read on or whether they’re on the wrong page and need to leave.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) recommends frontloading content in order to ‘decrease the amount of sifting readers perform to find important information’.
When to frontload
Frontloading is essential when you are writing informative content (that is, its main purpose is to provide information for its users), and most web writing, particularly for institutional, governmental, or organisational websites, is informative.
Other forms of digital communications, such as emails, blog posts and social media posts also benefit from frontloading because you are saving your reader time scanning through to figure out what your main point is.
Some types of content, such as narrative content (for instance, a suspenseful ghost story), don’t need to use frontloading.
How to frontload
In order to frontload a webpage, you first need to ask yourself two questions:
- What is this page about?
- Who is this page for?
For example, on the St Andrews evening degree webpage, the first paragraph clearly defines what the page is about (evening degrees) and who the page is for (“students who are unable to study full-time during the day due to work, health or family commitments”). This information is then followed by more detailed information, such as what an evening degree is, how long it takes to complete, the entrance requirements, and how to apply.
What information you choose to frontload depends on the nature of your webpage. If your webpage is targeted to a particular audience (for instance, mature students) you will want state this right at the beginning. If your webpage is about an unfamiliar topic (such as a General Degree), you will likely want to broadly define this topic right away.
It’s not just the webpage as a whole that you can frontload, you can also frontload sections, paragraphs and sentences. For example, you can even frontload anchor text (clickable text in a hyperlink) by placing the most important and descriptive words at the beginning, such as in the following example:
The second example is preferable because ‘conference’ is the important word that users will be scanning for, rather than ‘next week’.