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Writing for the Web: Basic Tips You Need to Know

I know why you’re reading this sentence.

It’s short, it’s sassy and it’s surrounded by oodles of white space. It also got your attention, which is something I have to work hard to hold on to.

You see, people read differently on the web. They scan for information and devour it in chunks. If they don’t like what they see, there are a trillion other pages to read. Literally.

If you’re going to write for the web, you need to ditch pretty much everything you learned about writing for print. No more indented paragraphs, no more extended metaphors, no more 1500 word essays, no more semi-colons. Say good-bye. It’s for the best.

Headings are Your Best Friend

Subheadings are Your Second Best Friend

So are:

  • bullet points
  • bold words
  • italics

Short sentences and paragraphs are great, too. Whatever you can do to break up your text and make it scannable.

Short is Sweet, Cliches are Not

deletesized - Stikky Media

You know that blog post you wrote? It’s too long. Cut it in half. People cruising the web don’t have the patience to sit through 1000-word spiels on even the most interesting of topics. They’re much too busy fending off tweets, emails and seductively-titled links. Try for 600 words, max, with the optimal length being 400 to 500.

You might defend your writing by saying each and every word is absolutely necessary, but you need to get over it. Take a hard, honest look at what you wrote and find places to cut back. Condense ideas, rewrite passive sentences, eliminate metaphors and, in most cases, delete words like “just,” “that,” and “really.”

And while you’re at it, nip all cliches in the bud and promise never to write them again. Not only are they annoying and a waste of precious words, most of them don’t translate across the web’s international boundaries.

You may even have to kill your darlings—those lovingly-crafted phrases or paragraphs you believe are the pinnacle of perfection. They’re not as great as you think they are. Self-editing may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it gets easier. I promise. Your readers will love you for it.

Ditch the Fancy Talk

While your English teacher may have given you gold stars for using words like “leverage” and “ramifications,” these words are not okay on the web. Why? They’re Latinate words, which is a fancy way of saying people don’t actually talk like that.

On the contrary, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary is succinct, robust and eradicates vexatious airs of pretension.

See? You probably stopped reading. That sentence should have said:

On the other hand, Anglo-Saxon words are short, strong and don’t make you sound like a snob and/or a marketing guru with ninja maven rockstar skillz.

Of course, your web content isn’t going to fail because you slipped in a few big words or regurgitated a few cliches. Be mindful of the basics, be interesting and be honest. And never, ever write more than one sentence about your dog, Mr. Paw Paw.