The Do's & Don'ts of Web Content Writing Part 2
This week on the blog we pick up where we left off last week: with part two of our two-part post on web content writing. Today, as content writers around the world mourn the loss of facts, style and basic English grammar and spelling, we'll look at six more tips for developing your online voice. For last week's tips, take a look here.
We start in medias res with the Queen of England and a tarantula.
6. Write clearly and informally
You may be writing an essay, but this isn’t old-fashioned essay writing. This is essay writing 2.0. Keep your sentences as short as possible and punchy. (As a rule of thumb, this applies to any kind of writing.) Overly precious writing can easily get onerous. Yes, your voice counts—it counts for a lot—but we won't pay by the pound.
In terms of register, you’re talking to people, not preaching at them. Let down the pretense. Here’s another rule of thumb: Write like you’d talk if you were more interesting than you normally are. Write at the top of your talking game.
Or, if you like, just think of the Queen of England with a tarantula on her shoulder.
7. Write to your audience
If you’re Gym Mom—30-something on-the-go exercise-deprived mother of two—don’t write about the benefits of Peruvian wool socks. (Unless those socks end up on an elliptical machine with your two-year-old daughter.) Don’t start writing about Donald Trump’s fascist candy apple recipe or how Swami Ramdev Baba saved your marriage. You might delve into a post on how to pack a healthy meal for fitness-conscious moms on the run or on yoga as a weekly alternative to the gym. That’s in the ballpark. But anything too far afield and you’re jeopardizing your relationship with your readers.
And it is a relationship you’re cultivating. It’s important to remind yourself of your mission every time you set out to write a post. This is your covenant with your readers.
You don’t want to break it.
8. Break up your writing
In web writing we don't want big flat endless Texan horizons, we want the kind of horizons a mouse would see chasing a piece of cheese to the end of a plate. So no 300-word paragraphs. Our fruit-fly brains won’t go for it. If it can be broken up, break it.
Isolate rhetorical questions with line breaks. Use bulleted lists where you can. This is sentence variation, which naturally creates small-scale text chunks.
Font styles can also break up information visually. Bold key info. If you have a point to emphasize, put it in italics.
Visuals, font color variation and horizontal lines (see all three below) will also do the trick.
9. Keep reading times in mind
Ok, it’s obvious why pages don’t work as a unit of measurement online, but maybe it's not so obvious that web readers do measure reads in seconds, not pages. Anyway, the progress indicator is always spinning. You should be conscious of the fact that readers will typically be ingesting your posts in one sitting, not bookmarking them for later on. When their patience runs out, they click.
To keep readers with you, focus on your narrative technique—pacing, tension and climax. (Yes, you can have a climax, or moment of impact you're leading up to, in your blog writing. Actually, you should aspire to it.)
And just like with short stories, where you've typically got a character with a serious problem on his hands, give your readers a problem your post will figure out—and solve it. Problems that need solutions activate our storytelling brains, and storytelling brains are happy brains.
10. Remember to give credit and links
Have you "borrowed" a quote? Taken a paragraph out for a test drive? Given a radiant sentence a loving feel at the jewelry counter?
Tell us about it. We won't find you any less interesting. Actually, we'll trust you more and thank you for leading us to more relevant information.
Not only that, giving source links reinforces your own points. It’s also a very good and easy way to participate in the social ecosystem. The Internet experience is richer with connections. Today you link to someone else’s article or post, tomorrow they link to yours.
11. Rehashing isn't bad
Every story needs some kind of resolution. So don’t be afraid to remind readers what it is they’ve read and when they've reached the end.
Unless you've written an 11-part list. In which case, you'd probably just say something like this: Lists are only guidelines. They're meant as food for thought, not Mosaic law. The journey you set off on with your blog is a personal one. You'll make some mistakes and you'll have new guidelines to add to the list. Enjoy every hitch along the way!
Or, in lieu of anything vital to say, you'd just introduce the next article or section of your text.
Or say goodbye.
Enjoy what you just read? Join the conversation. Leave a comment below.
Max's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications in the US, UK and elsewhere. He's worked as a teacher, journalist, editor and copywriter. He's the founder and director of Write CY, a Nicosia-based creative space dedicated to creative writing and community storytelling. Talk to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.