Writing for the web isn’t like anything what your high school English teacher taught you. Does this mean there are no rules to follow when it comes to online writing? No, the rules are just different because of the way people consume words on computers and electronic devices.
Users typically read only 20% of an article and 79% of people scan the content of a page instead of reading it fully. Why do we read so differently online? People searching the web are looking for specific information that answers a question they have. So, they skim to find exactly what they came looking for. As writers, we need to adapt our style to our audience. Below are 7 tips to keep in mind when writing for the web.
1. Keep It Short & Simple
Massive walls of text are overwhelming to look at on a screen, and no matter how good the content is, readers will move on before ever having read a word. For readability, keep your paragraphs 1-4 sentences. Of course, this isn’t a hard rule but consider it instead as a good rule of thumb.
Also, keep your sentences short and use simpler words. Instead of writing “commence”, “utilize”, and “terminate”, choose “begin”, “use”, and “end.”
People’s eyes tend to scan online content in an “F” shape. In an article, the introduction typically gets read, before the eyes skip down to briefly look at the middle, and then jump to the end. The intro is your “hot zone” because eyes linger there for longer. That is where your most important point should be clearly stated.
The rest of your post should have highlighted keywords, headings and subheadings, and bulleted or numbered lists to make it easier for your audience to find what they need before moving on.
2. Write In The Active Voice
Writing in the active voice makes your words seem alive, concise, and easier to understand. In active sentences, the subject does the action. In passive sentences, the action is being done to the subject.
Consider the differences in the following sentences:
Passive: The first draft was created by a man named Michael.
Active: A man named Michael created the first draft.
Passive: New bands are sometimes showcased in music concerts.
Active: Music concerts sometimes showcase new bands.
Passive: Pinterest has become popular with many crafty people, and as a result, many tutorials on DIY projects are being pinned.
Active: Pinterest has become popular with many crafty people, and as a result, people are pinning many tutorials on DIY projects.
3. Adopt Power Verbs
Weakling verbs make your writing seem tired and lifeless. Switch them out for more expressive ones that vividly paint a picture in your reader’s mind.
Weak sentence: He pulled the letter from my tightly gripped hands.
Power sentence: He yanked the letter from my tightly gripped hands.
Weak sentence: The lifeguard ran into the water to save a little girl.
Power sentence: The lifeguard plunged into the water to save a little girl.
4. Mind Your Word Usage
Watch out for these commonly misused words:
Historic or Historical?
- Historic: An event that has importance in history.
- Historical: Relates to past events or events that took place in history.
E.g. or i.e.?
- e.g.: Stands for “exemplī grātiā” in Latin and means “for example.”
- i.e.: Stands for “id est” in Latin and means “that is.”
Except or accept?
- Except: Excluding someone or something.
- Accept: Agreeing to or receiving something offered.
Flaunt or Flout?
- Flaunt: To show something off or make a display so others admire you.
- Flout: To ignore a rule, authority, or convention.
5. Get To The Point
When writing for the web, one of the most important points to keep in mind is to be concise. If there’s a shorter way to say something, use that! Be economical with your writing and respect your audience’s time. Think about how you can swap longer words for smaller ones, or condense phrases and expressions into only 1-2 words.
Below are some inflated phrases and their shorter alternatives.
- Despite the fact that = Although
- A number of = Eliminate entirely or use: some, few, various, many
- At which time = When
6. Edit Ruthlessly
If you expect perfection on your 1st draft, you’re misunderstanding the point of a 1st draft. It’s meant to be ugly! It’s a mind dump where you get all your words and thoughts out in a tentatively organized manner. Just write your little heart out…then walk away.
After you’ve put some distance between you and your 1st draft, go back and let the real work begin. Become an editing fiend as you move things around, clarify meaning, and delete sentences that add no value. Be ruthless here.
Your goal is to shape the chaos into something people want to read. Sometimes this means deleting entire paragraphs whose absence makes no difference to the quality of your content.
Intro paragraphs are especially guilty of this. We use them to give background information that your title or topic doesn’t even ask for. Try taking out the whole paragraph entirely.
You may protest saying, “But it took me so long to write!” Remember that you’re not writing for you and that publishing is a privilege. You respect your reader’s time and appreciate them spending precious minutes reading what you have to say. You show that respect by saying as much as possible in as little words as possible.
Besides, you may find you don’t even miss that paragraph anyways.
7. Don’t Give In To Clichés
Clichés can be so easy to use. They automatically pop into your head and before you know it, they’re on paper. But the truth is they’re so overused, they don’t cause any emotion in your reader or add anything to your story.
If it’s an expression you’ve seen somewhere else, don’t use it. Instead, think of fresh new ways to express yourself or how you can provide new insights.
Here are some common offenders:
- Where the rubber meets the road
- All things being equal
- At the end of the day
- In the nick of time
- Only time will tell
- The writing on the wall
- Read between the lines
Remember, in most cases writing for the internet is nothing like writing a school essay. Information consumed online is a lot different than when you go and read a physical book. Because of this, grammar rules are more flexible and the tone can be more conversational. Your primary goal when writing content for the web should be to make it clear, concise, and scannable. When you go back to revise your first draft, you can work on it to make it impactful and colorful.
What other “rules” do you keep in mind when creating online content? Share your thoughts below!