Writing for the web requires some techniques and a special workflow that are not common in traditional print writing. Here are some tips that can optimize print materials for on-screen reading.
These are the guidelines that I teach in media writing classes and use in my own blog writings; I want to use a (partial) blog post to show how these tips work – read on for explanations of each tip:
Why do we need special tips for web writing?
self-explanatory headline: Nowadays a headline may appear on Google search results list, in RSS feeds, or be shared on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter – usually without the associated article. This means that when writing headline, we need to write in a way that the headline, by itself, can tell the gist of the article.
summary of key points: Web writing requires a straight “inverted pyramid” style – the first paragraph needs to provide key information or highlights so that readers can quickly get the main idea of the article, and to decide whether he or she wants to read on.
sections with subhead: When reading online, people don’t “read,” – they quickly scan an article; one way to help with the “scanning” is to break an article into several logical sections. Each section should have an informational subhead, and the several subheads as a group can tell people what the article talks about.
For instance, in the sample post, the headline reads “Digital training for J-students lacks in comparison with digital training for working professionals,” and the three subheads:
- Journalism professionals demand digital training to stay current
- Training organizations are adapting to the digital age
- Journalism schools/programs face challenges offering similar digital training to j-students
With the headline and the three subheads, an online visitor can quickly get the “gist” without reading the whole article.
short paragraphs: When reading online, people dislike long, chunky texts and paragraphs; so keep the length of each paragraph to 3 or 4 lines of text.
use of lists: In comparison with writing everything into a (long) paragraph, a list works better in presenting parallel items.
Effective web writing requires a special workflow
These tips would work well for most web-bound texts – copy-and-paste of print text won’t work for the “impatient” online readers. That said, one needs to follow this workflow when writing or re-writing for the web:
- organize your ideas or a finished print text into two or more sections; try to keep a consistent length for each section. Rewrite if needed.
- work on a subhead for each section; each subhead should be informational in telling what that section talks about, and the several subheads as a group should be able to tell what the whole article is about.
- go over the article and (a) identify texts where a list will work better and (b) break long paragraphs into shorter ones. Rewrite if needed.
- work on a headline that best summarizes what you have written/rewritten.
- work on search engine optimization (SEO) if you know how to do it, or read a tutorial on how to research and place keywords.
- A case study of writing for the web: How to rewrite for online readers
- “Inverted pyramid” is still a functional guideline for web writing
- Writing for the web is different: Headline needs to work out of context
- Writing for the web is different: Print article needs refocusing and reformatting
- Writing for the web is different: Constraints of Content Management System
Latest posts by Mu Lin (see all)
- Critical thinking exercises in online courses: How I incorporate them in lecture and production courses - September 10, 2015
- RTE Innovation Lead Glen Mulcahy: Bad news and good news about mobile journalism - May 5, 2015
- How to write a headline: Discussions and rewrites in my Writing for the Web course - April 19, 2015