When you’re writing for your website, keep in mind that many of the writing guidelines used for print will no longer be helpful to you. People take in material on a computer screen differently than they do from a newspaper cover or in a pamphlet. Because of this, you should be careful to employ some tactics that will help you keep people interested and informed. This article will not only give you some handy information about the differences between writing for print and writing for the web, it will also tell you why you should care about those differences. Paying attention to little details in your web writing such as layout, brevity and keywords will help you shape your writing to best suit the needs of your clients.
A Brief Review
Many of the rules that apply to writing for print also apply to web writing. Here is a brief list:
- Cut out unnecessary words
- Make sure your headings and subheadings accurately reflect the article’s content
- Use proper grammar
- Use the active voice in your sentences
- Stick to one tense
There are, of course, many more rules and guidelines that apply both to web writing and print writing. Strunk and White's Elements of Style is an excellent little book that covers all of them in just enough detail. There are, however, guidelines that only work for web writing. Why? Readers usually want their experience formed for them on TV or on the printed page, but they will construct their own experience once they sit in front of a computer. Because of this, any web writer should pay close attention to the next three sections in this article which will highlight three important pieces that will hold your writing together.
When people read a printed page, they are easily put off by rows and rows of copy. To give the eyes a rest, writers use paragraph breaks, bullet lists and other layout tips that help the reader pick out important information and keep interested throughout the article.
Layouts on the web, however, must pass through stricter guidelines. The more copy people see on a web page, the less likely they are to dive into it. Remember: when writing for the web, less is always more. Use the least amount of words as possible without sacrificing meaning and clarity. This means that it's alright to use fragments at times, something normally discouraged in the world of print writing.
Highlight what’s important in your article by sparingly using words or phrases in bold, bullet lists and subtitles to guide people through your articles more quickly. Studies have shown that people usually scan web pages rather than read them. Pretend that you are visiting your site for the first time. Decide if you can tell what your articles are about by merely scanning them. Web users are active, not passive. If they scan a page and don't find the information they need, they won't spend any more time searching for it on your site.
Studies (link here?) have also shown that web users usually view a page from center to left to right, rather than from right to left (as readers usually view printed material). Make sure you keep the "center, right, left" eye movement in mind when you design your layout so you can make sure you're sending your reader straight to the heart of your article from the moment they begin scanning.
Copy on your website needs to be brief and to the point. Make sure your headlines are short and accurately represent the information your articles contain. Give a brief summary of what your article is going to be about in the first paragraph. Proofread your writing before you post it so you can cut down on any lengthy sentences.
In a study conducted by Dr. Nielsen, researchers found that people read copy 25% slower from a computer monitor than they do from a printed page. This is because reading material from a monitor increases eye strain and fatigue. Keeping the written material on your website brief might be bothersome, especially if you feel you have a lot of information to communicate, but the extra time you spend editing is better than losing a potential customer because they weren't able to get to the point of your article fast enough.
Print writers don’t need to worry about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or keywords in their stories, but SEO is very important to web writers. Without it, their stories face little chance of being found by search engines. The first step in using keywords is choosing them. That might seem silly, but having a list of keywords before you begin writing is helpful because it is much easier to pepper your keywords throughout your article while you are writing it than to go back and add them after you've finished the article.
In order to pick the right keywords, imagine what the person who is looking for your article would type into a search engine to find it. Remember to use keywords that showcase what you're article is really about. If you are writing an article about daschunds, but you never use the word daschund, your article will not rank well in search results. For example, even though you know you meant daschund when you wrote "weiner dog," a search engine won't know that you meant daschund.
Keeping layout, brevity and keywords in mind whenever you write for your website will give your writing (and your website!) a much needed face-lift. People will be able to find your material more easily and be able to digest its meaning more quickly. Remember: even though many of the rules used for print writing no longer apply to you, you should still use simple, straightforward language to communicate.