10 Keys to Effective Writing for the Web
Writing for an online audience is much different than writing for a traditional print publication like a book, magazine or newspaper. Online readers are obviously reading from a screen, and as a result they will more likely scan the article as opposed to reading it word-for-word. In order to maximize the impact of your articles you will need to make a few adjustments.
1) Use Headings and Sub-Headings – You can break up your text and make it much easier to scan by using headings and sub-headings. This will help the reader to find the parts of the article that they are most interested in, and it will allow the primary topics of the article to stand out with just a quick glance.
Necessary white space is also added by using headings. This makes the writing less intimidating to the reader as they see that it can quickly be digested.
Coincidentally, using headings may also help improve the quality of your writing by helping your article to flow better and by helping your to stay organized and avoid unnecessary content.
2) Use Lists – Both bulleted lists and numerical lists will increase the readability of your article by making it easier to scan and keeping the content organized.
3) Use Short Paragraphs – Reading on screen can be difficult, and long paragraphs make this worse. Short paragraphs look less daunting on screen and are more likely to be read.
Like the first two points, short paragraphs will make your writing easier to scan. A reader that is looking for a specific piece of information is likely to scan, but unlikely to fully read an entire article. Simply put, short paragraphs help readers find what they are looking for.
4) Use Bold Text for Emphasis – Regardless of what you are writing about, some parts of the article are bound to be more important than others. Bold text allows you, the writer, to control what is emphasized. Typically headings and sub-headings are bold, but bold text can also be used within paragraphs.
5) Allow Text to be Re-Sized by the User – Not all readers prefer to view text in a medium font size. In fact, some need larger fonts in order to be able to read the text at all. Internet browsers allow readers to change the text size (although many users are not aware of this).
However, if the page is designed with a pixel-specific font size, Internet Explore users will not be able to adjust the text size. To avoid this, design with a text size of small, medium or large and control the size of specific text within the page by using percentages (for example using a medium text size, code headings to be 110% instead of specifying a size in pixels).
There are some times where you will want greater control of the text size, but generally you should allow the reader the option of adjusting the size.
6) Include Links in the Article – Article text is a great place to use links to other pages within your site as well as links to other websites. Because readers will not always read the entire article, place links in the body of the article where they are applicable. This will make it easier for visitors to find all of the content you have on a particular topic.
7) Use a Blog to Allow Feedback – Most of the current trends online involve some sort of user interaction. Blogs provide readers with the ability to ask questions and to comment on postings. This type of involvement from readers helps to connect the writer to the audience and to encourage repeat visitors.
8) Create an RSS Feed to Syndicate Your Writing – Once you’ve mastered the art of writing on the web, RSS feeds can help you deliver that quality writing to more people. With RSS other websites can syndicate your content. Syndication equals greater exposure for you, and quality, up-to-date content for others. If you are using a WordPress blog you will automatically have a RSS feed of your posts.
9) Know Your Audience – Before writing remember to consider who will be reading. If your website or blog has a very specific audience, industry-related terminology and jargon may be appropriate. But if you are writing for a more general audience, be sure to avoid words or phrases that they may not understand.
Length of the article may also be affected by the target audience. Readers that are looking for technical or educational articles will typically be willing to read longer articles than readers who are looking for news or entertainment.
10) Pay Attention to Text and Background Color – Websites give you the opportunity to use every color imaginable; however, drastic colors and color combinations should be avoided. Generally a white or very light-colored background with dark text is easiest for reading from a screen. Dark backgrounds with white text can also work.
Another factor to remember is that some readers may have images turned off in their browser if they have a slow internet connection. If your site uses background images to control background color this may cause problems. If this is the case, be sure that the text is also readable if the background image is not there.
Whatever type of writing you do, be sure to look at it from the perspective of a potential reader before you post it. If the article looks like something you would skip over, try to incorporate more of these principles to make it more reader-friendly.
By following these basic guidelines you will create web content that is more likely to be read and therefore more effective.
Published March 17th, 2007 by Steven Snell