Web Writing

Writing for the Web is different. In a word -- it is about keywords. Most people want to be found on the web. That requires not just writing for the reader but also for the Search Engines. Finding the keywords that people search for and then writing pages that reflect those words is where sites begin.

Web surfers often have short attention spans, so you have to grab their attention with graphics and great text. In fact Jakob Nielson of Useit.com tells us that they don't read, they scan. If they want to read anything, they print it out but that's another issue.

Combine keywords with the short attention spans of surfers, and you have the challenge of writing for the web. Here are some pointers on writing for the web.

Writing Style

  • Be Yourself. Write Conversationally. It's the most natural way to write -- try writing the same way you speak to a friend. You'll end up being more concise, clearer, and more engaging. Use You instead of I or We or They.
  • Write Short, Tight Paragraphs. OK, so you wrote naturally. Great. Now go back and edit your work so it says what you want using the fewest words possible (i.e. without changing the original meaning). It's not as easy as it sounds, but it's a good technique to use when publishing on the web.
  • Chunk the Information Into Bite-sized Bits. This one's really important when writing for the web. People don't read -- they skim. Nobody likes to scroll through a long narrative looking for the "good stuff." Take a look at what you just wrote. Draw a line between each unique "thought." Write a headline for each thought (even if the thought is just one paragraph).

Better yet, avoid narrative paragraphs whenever possible. Look at what you wrote again -- are you listing or comparing information? Try using a bulleted list or a table instead. It's a lot easier on the eye.

Headlines that Grab People

Take a look at a good newspaper or magazine and just read the headlines. What draws you in -- what makes you want to read a particular story?

What's the trick? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Use Action Verbs. Remember those? Avoid flat verbs like Is, Have, Was. Which has more action? The New Product Is Here! or Achieve Results by Purchasing the New Product!
  • Catch Their Attention. Don't be afraid to be playful or clever (assuming it's appropriate for the web site). Your goal is to draw the reader in to read more. Which is more interesting? Drink Water Every Day or Ever Quake In Your Boots for a Quenching Quaff of Agua?
  • Be Descriptive. Include the key elements of the "thought" in your headline. Give the reader a good idea of what they'll get if they read further. Which tells you more? My Summer Vacation or The Highs and Lows of My Summer On the Road: A Wanderer's Musings

Overcoming common mistakes

Here are a few tips for avoiding the most common pitfalls and grammatical mistakes:

  • Check Your Pages After Uploading. Look at your pages using as many browsers (and platforms) as you can get your hands on. Not everyone sees what you see.
  • Spellcheck Your Work. Get an HTML authoring tool with a built-in spellchecker. Use it.
  • Go Beyond the Spellchecker. Yes, it's true, spellcheckers won't catch grammatical errors. You'll have to train yourself to catch these. They're organized into three categories: editorial style, grammar, and punctuation. Watch for them.
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