Writing for the web is becoming the predominant arena for writers of every genre, but many good writers still do not understand the difference between presenting materials online and using the traditional written page. Mastering this important requirement for online writing is a simple task, but it can quickly transform mediocre material into impressive, online articles that readers will utilize more fully.
Check the Yahoo! Style Guide
The Yahoo! Style Guide discusses the issue in a common sense way, encouraging the writer to embrace their new online audience who do not take in the written word like traditional readers. The information about the low fatigue threshold that online readers usually have is so valuable to know. The reader will scan the page, and bold text headers and crisp copy are what is preferred. The reader will not stick around for a slow build-up to a point. They are searching for information, and they are not there for the long version. You need to get to the point first, and then embellish the information with a few more details.
Learn from yourself
Think of your own online reading habits. When you arrive at a website, think about how your behavior is different from when you pick up a magazine, book, or newspaper. Be your own research target; other people are just like you. Most of the time, an online reader is poised in a desk chair searching for a particular piece of information. They are not reclining on the couch with a good book. Yahoo! Style Guide makes some very astute observations about how quickly an online reader reaches the point of fatigue.
Not Hemingway, but pretty close
You need to say what you have to say in a clear, compact format. You certainly do not want to use only nouns and verbs like our friend, Ernest, but you need to be much more economical with your word usage than in a normal setting. I heard someone use the analogy that your writing should be an inverted pyramid, with the important information at the top. This fits the online reader’s propensity to read the upper half of the page. More specifically, the Yahoo! Style Guide points out that the upper left corner is the hot spot.
Helpful and horrifying
Understanding the online reader has been extremely helpful in improving my writing, and I experienced an epiphany when this simple reality hit me. Many of us have written extensively for school and work but have not yet mastered the necessary technique for engaging a reader on a web page.
Much of my online writing over the past few years stands as a monument on, “How not to write online!” Rambling paragraphs and long bodies of text with no breaks distract from the information I was trying to get across to my reader. When I finally realized how using short sections with headers would be inviting to a reader, my online writing endeavors became more successful.
The Yahoo! Style Guide, Shape your texts for online reading.