The Scanning Reader
Writing for the Web is different than writing for print. The differences are slight but significant. First, people don’t really read online; they scan because of what is called the “flicker rate” of a computer monitor. This means people read 25% slower online than in print publications. What does this mean for you as a writer? It means you have to write differently to connect with readers.
Begin at the End
Writing for the Web is like good journalism. Use the old, "Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How" journalistic formula when you write for the web. This is called the inverted pyramid. Put your conclusion at the beginning and then write the details. The Web is a no-nonsense, grab-it-and-go, and give-it-to-me-now medium. You must connect with a reader immediately or you lose them.
Since the reader is scanning rather than reading you must break your text down into bite size portions. You’ll notice this article has short, chunky segments. Each segment only needs 75 words or less. This opens up the white space surrounding the text and provides comfortable reading. Chunky writing takes some practice but it is quite easy. When you write chunky, create strong headlines and subheadings. Make your main points and move the reader along. Also, use short bulleted or numbered lists like this:
- More numbers
- Still more numbers
See how the text opens up and moves along?
Sail the High Cs
There are four C words you need to know when writing for the Web.
Write tight. Keep it short. Eliminate unnecessary words.
Use precise words. Get specific and avoid generalizations.
Avoid excessive clutter in your writing. Pick up the litter of too many –ly words and put them in the wastebasket. Empty “that” into the dumpster unless you have to keep it. Then keep only what you need.
Write with honesty and integrity. Nothing is wrong with marketing but readers recognize slick, manipulative tactics. Write from your heart, even in advertising, and you will reach readers.
Keep It Simple Sweetheart! The last “S” was changed intentionally to a term ala Humphrey Bogart. Because you should never, ever insult your readers’ intelligence. But at the same time, write in easy-to-understand terms and your readers will love you for it. And they will keep reading what you write. Every writer needs a good vocabulary but that doesn’t mean it should be used to make readers feel unlearned or uneducated.
The bottom line? Keep it simple, encourage and inform your readers with short, clear, crisp writing. Then you will enjoy success as a great web writer!
Copyright © 2002 Glenn White
This article was posted on August 07, 2003