The Essential Guide to Writing for the Web (1)
Published: 3 Jun, 2013
Writing for the web differs greatly from writing for print.
Most people skim through online content in search of the information they need. Since the bulk of your audience will not be reading every word, there are some best practices to bear in mind when writing for digital media.
Plan your content
The best way to succeed is to go at a task with a great plan in mind - a fact that is constant in business. This is especially true when it comes to writing for the web.
The planning phase includes:
- Defining the purpose of your writing
- Deciding what you want to say
- Determining what is relevant to your readers
- Organising and outlining the writing
The above list is something of a condensation of planning your writing, but all elements are necessary. The important takeaway is that you should plan before you write, so that your message is on-point.
1. Define the purpose of your writing
What is your reason for writing? The effort you expend on writing should be tied to a well-defined business objective. Some common reasons to engage in business writing include:
- Introducing a product or service
- Inform customers about product uses
- Make an important statement - such as a product discontinuation or usage concern
- Share a new development - an award or recognition, for example
Give careful consideration to why you are preparing to write, and shape your efforts around its essential purpose.
2. Decide what you want to say
Once you have determined why you need to write something, you must then decide what exactly you want to say. If you have opted to write about a new product to help you sell it, the writing will be different than it would if you were writing for people who already own the product. Take for example the fact that a new product needs to be clearly defined in terms of features and benefits to your prospective customers, as far as writing about the product is concerned. To compare, existing users might find more importance in learning advanced uses for the product
No matter what the purpose is for your writing, it should clearly support the initial business objective you initially had in mind.
3. Determine what is important to your readers
The best way to present an idea to your customers is to make sure it has value to them. Just because you want to say 'buy this product - today' does not mean you should. In fact, that won't work at all. You have to dig a little deeper when deciding what to write, making sure you have your customers' interests top-of-mind.
The best way to determine what is important to your readers is to reflect upon questions like these:
- What about my product/service improves my customers' lifestyle?
- How can my product/service save time or money?
- How is my product/service different from what my customers are already using or have already heard of?
- Is what I want to say clearly important to my audience?
Asking these types of questions will help you shape the next phase of the writing process.
Every piece of writing is only valuable if it is important enough to actually be read by your customers, so keep them in mind as you decide what to write.
4. Organise and outline the writing
The final planning phase is organising and outlining what you plan to write. This is not that different from the way you were taught to outline a paper in grade school. Start with the big ideas (the headings and sub-headings) related to your topic. Use a bulleted list to fill in the general ideas of paragraphs.
Along the way, you can be critical of the sequence of the writing and overall flow of your words. Organising and outlining will help you keep your paragraphs on track once you get started.
Keep it simple
Reading from a display screen is tiring and slower than reading from print. This means that writing for the web should be as easy to read as possible.
- Use the shortest words you possibly can to get the job done
- Avoid academic words like 'however' and 'therefore'
- Use simple sentence structures that avoid presenting more than one point
- Use active voice throughout your writing
Your paragraphs should reflect the need for simplicity, too. Keeping it simple is the only way to make sure your readers understand what you are trying to say.
Get right to the point
Another important concept when writing for the web is 'front-loaded' content.
This means that the main idea of the entire piece of writing starts with the conclusion. This applies not only to the overall article or copy, but to each paragraph within the piece of writing.
Organising your paragraphs as we've described above will allow you reader to:
- Immediately know what the paragraph covers
- Rapidly scan through the first sentence
- Determine whether or not they would like to read the whole paragraph
Readers have come to expect this from writings in the digital medium. The fact that each paragraph presents only a single idea allows them to skip from one section to the next without missing a key concept.
Because your readers are used to reading in such a way, they will quickly exit content that is not presented in a front-loaded manner.
Ready to dive in?
In our next installment of writing for the web we will discuss the minute details that can make or break writing for the web.
The concepts we have covered so far will frame the deeper study ahead. Watch for Part Two, where we will discuss the role of concision in your writing, reader-friendly layouts, creating compelling headlines, considerations for SEO and more.