Thursday, January 19, 2006

Web, Internet Writing

I knew I wouldn't have much time to post after ten days away so I asked my good friend Vivian, who writes web content, to clue us in on internet or web writing. I hope you find this useful whether you intend to submit articles to ezines or simply want to know how to improve your own sites. Here's what Viv has to say:

Writing for the Internet

by Vivian C.

Writing for the internet is in some ways very similar to print writing and nothing like it in others for the mere reason that reading on a screen is nothing like reading print.

According to studies:
  • Nearly 80% of web readers scan the text
  • Screen reading is at least 25% slower than reading print
  • Less is more, that is readers understand more when you write less
  • Optimum reading line length - 10-12 words
So while the similarities are:
    Planning, logical structuring, a narrative voice, point of view, knowing your audience and tailoring your writing style accordingly
The main difference remains:
    Internet writing caters to readers who scan
This means that web writers have very little time to capture their audience before they go back to the search engine to check out the next site on the list. In these few seconds, it is the responsibility of the writer to help the scanning process.

Capturing readers' eyes

How do you capture the readers' eyes and attention? How do you help the scanning process? Here are ten pointers to help write a web friendly article.

1. Use headlines, sub-headers and captions
    Headlines and sub-headers are the first to be scanned so use catchy, punchy and poignant headers (remember the subheader tags H2 and H3 were created for a reason). And since studies have shown that readers focus on the text more than the graphics, write good captions.
2. Use lists, bullet points and indents
    Indents can identify subpoints easily while lists and bullet points are scanner friendly. Lists and bullets also help in emphasizing key concepts. Use the numbered or ordered list when relevant (the OL tag).
    Write effective bullet points:
    Bullets aren't sentences, they're the key idea. Be consistent in the use of caps and tenses.
3. Use short sentences, short paragraphs and line breaks
    One idea per paragraph is the motto of most web writers. Break down your ideas into topics and subtopics that can fit into short paragraphs (3-4 sentences).
4. Length
    Because of slower screen reading, an article on the web should be 40%-50% shorter than a print article. Delete all unnecessary words and allow topic expansions with the use of links into secondary level pages (multilevel writing).
5. Start at the end
    Always give the most important facts and information first - at the beginning of the article, the subtopic or the paragraph.
6. Sound genuine and authoritative
    Don't be afraid to be you and to sound authoritative, it is the only way to gain the readers' trust. However, be accurate and credible - the only way to maintain that trust.
7. Links
    A link, while providing additional information and resources, can also take the readers away from your site and they may never come back. Choose wisely.
8. Visual design and imagination
    Try to imagine how your text would look on the screen.
    Use pictures, tables and charts to help with concepts and explain, show data.
    Bold text, or color it to emphasize ideas inside a sentence.
9. Tone and style
    The common advice is to use transition words, shorter words and active voice whenever possible as well as a less formal tone. I disagree with that last bit and prefer to adjust the tone (and some times the style) to the market in question. Writing a personal blog post is different from writing a financial article for a financial ezine. Use your judgment.
10. Edit, edit, edit and update frequently
    When writing for the web, most times you don't have an editor or a second pair of eyes, therefore you must be your own. It is important that your site/article is consistent. Well-written, grammatically correct, fresh content is crucial to gaining and maintaining the readers as are frequent updates.

And most important - good content attracts good traffic.

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Ronn said...

I know that I scan a lot more than I read on the internet. And shorter is better. Big blocks of text are a sure fire way to get me to click away to some other site.

There's something about the internet that makes me itchy if I stay at one site too long.

Of course, that may have something to do with being at work for most of my browsing.

rdl said...

Great article/advice. Thanks

Melly said...

Viv told me she's in a seminar all day so she won't be able to comment or answer any questions until this evening.

Ronn, surfing at work? Shame on you ;)

And thanks rdl :)

Georganna Hancock said...

Generally a good article, although not applicable entirely to all kinds of content. One element not mentioned is font and text size, which also affect readability. Most annoying are websites that don't allow the user to enlarge the size for reading ease. Remember the Boomers are aging and make up a growing segment of Internet viewers, and, uh, I can't read that image at the bottom of this comment section, so this probably won't get posted ... third time and I'm giving up!

Melly said...

Thanks Georganna.
You added some important points that I'm sure Viv would be thrilled to see.

Deborah said...

I'm one of those rare Internet surfers who can read large bodies of text online, as long as the writing holds my attention. If not, I start scanning. I love it when sites offer a "print this article" option because of the eyestrain factor.

Melly said...

You're a rare one indeed.
But I always knew that ;)

Nope, I'm a total scanner myself, unless I research something seriously or like the subject and/or writing style.
Large bodies of text scare me away usually.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all who read, commented and added interesting points.

Vivian C.