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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest Post: Writing for Web Readers


I'm pleased to bring you a guest post today from freelance writer Pamelia Brown. Pamelia looks at the particular requirements of writing copy for the web.

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The reasons people read on the web are very different from the reasons someone might pick up a book or a magazine. Most people read books and magazines for enjoyment and - with fiction anyway - expect the writer to draw them in with imagery, metaphors, and dialog. In other words, people most often read books and magazines to escape.

On the web, though, people don't want to escape; they want to learn about something, do something with what they learn, and get on with their busy lives. In short, people go to the web for information, and they want that information as quickly as possible.

When web content is verbose and hard to follow, it slows readers down and causes their attention to wander. Before you know it, you've lost that person and they are on to someone else's site. Web readers don't want to spend ages searching for the information they want or trawling through an ocean of other content to find it. If you are writing for web readers, it's important to keep these three C's in mind: Clear, Concise, and Chunking.

One of the perks of a digital platform is that writers have an infinite amount of room to work with and are not confined by ad space, crowded page design, or a limited number of pages. But just because you have as much room as you want, this doesn't mean you should always use it.

Remember, if a reader is looking for entertainment they will pick up a book or magazine; if they are looking for information they will log on to the web. Writers who want to keep their audience not only satisfied but coming back for more will be sure to not confuse one with the other. This is why it's so important for web content to be clear and concise. For a writer, this means making sure every sentence conveys its meaning in the clearest possible way using the fewest possible number of words.

Rather than opting for adjective and adverb overkill, web writers need to stick to the bare essentials: subject, verb, and occasionally object. Also, carefully consider word choice. If you can convey the thought or idea in one word, do so, instead of stringing together a bunch of modifiers that do nothing but pump up your word count.

This brings up another point. The most reader-friendly web articles are between 500 to 700 words, and rarely go over 1,000. The Internet gives readers more options than ever before, and if an article looks dauntingly long, chances are they are going to exit swiftly.

Web readers are scanners, and most give an article a once-over before deciding whether to spend their precious time reading it. And what they are looking for in this once-over? A clue as to whether or not the article contains the information they are looking for. How can you, as a writer, provide this information to the reader up front? Simple - just incorporate chunking techniques into your articles.

Chunking means grouping related information and presenting it in a way that is easily identifiable and understandable. Shoot straight with your readers, tell them exactly what the article is about from the beginning, and clearly state it each time you introduce a new concept or idea.

Keep paragraphs short, and sentences even shorter. Articles appear differently on a computer screen than they do in print, and long paragraphs look even longer on a web site. Internet surfers are more likely to read a short paragraph as opposed to a long one because they can quickly process the information it contains. Shorter paragraphs are also more web page friendly as they produce more white space that visually breaks up copy and is easier on the reader's eyes.

Another way to chunk information is by using elements such as subheadings, bulleted lists, and graphics. This is a great way to attract 'scanners', as these elements catch readers' attention by letting them know what information they will find, and second, present that information in a way that is easily understood and quickly processed.

By-line: This guest post was submitted by Pamelia Brown, who specializes in writing about associates degree. Questions and comments can be sent to pamelia.brown-at-gmail.com, or leave a comment below as usual.

Photo Credit: Asleep at the Wheel by Aaron Jacobs on Flickr.

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