When my students submitted their first example posts to me as an assignment in my Blog Writing class, I knew I had to do a little backtracking and first teach them a bit about the technique of writing for the net.
Times have changed. Most of us get our information online these days which means that information must be written for a screen format as opposed to a traditional newspaper or magazine column format. Old school journalism, though revered and honored at places like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal doesn't exactly translate well to the internet. If you haven't realized how writing technique has changed, you're going to be left behind and that means you're not going to be read.
Online readers typically have less time, they scan the writing instead of read it, and for the most part are not big on delayed gratification. They want their information right now, thank you very much. And if you don't give it to them, they'll navigate away to someone else who will.
If you've ever taken a speed reading course, they teach you to scan down the center of the page. That's the way you need to write your information, so that if the causal reader scans down the center of his screen, he'll still get the majority of the information you want passed on.
There is a subtle difference with writing online material but one that if not used could kill the information you want to pass on in a heartbeat. Here are some of the tips I gave my students:
Write in a conversational tone – The internet is a virtual community. We know each other and we can also recognize posers. Don't write in order to demonstrate how intelligent you are, show us by the way you present you your information or support your arguments. Trust us, we'll be able to figure it out.
Be concise – For God's sake we are all busy here. Don't waste our time and don't go on any longer than you have to. 'nuff said.
Don't lapse into a passive voice - Action, Action, Action baby. If you want to hold the attention of that early morning riser who is logging into her system and going through her RSS feed, you need to grab her and not let go until she finishes what you've written.
Write shorter paragraphs – forget what you were taught in school about a typical paragraphs being 4 or 5 sentences long. Studies have indicated that people scan information online rather than read it. Trying to figure out what is worthwhile in a solid block of online text is both tedious and an eye strain.
Break up the text, use shorter sentences, include graphics and breaks, and remember the rule of Technical Writing where the white space is as necessary as the information.
Use lists – whenever possible use a list to group like items. Lists are easier and quicker to read.
Include visuals – Solid pages of text are pages of information that doesn't get read. With all online stories include a graphic or photo. Clearly identify who (with titles) or what is being shown in the photo. Make it easy for your reader to make the visual connections.
Be consistent – and here we have a skill that hasn't changed even on the internet. If you're going to use numbers, symbols, and abbreviations – be consistent.
Some things about writing though, will never change. Just as it is in good old fashioned journalism, don't overwrite your posts. Write to your audience and always remember the advice of your High School English teacher who told you to not use a 10 dollar word where a 1 dollar one would do.
About the Author: A features writer, interviewer, and columnist, Wendy Thomas has been published in national magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and blogs. Her current project is to blog about life living with 6 kids and a flock of chickens.