A Guide to Good Web Writing
When you publish on the internet, you address a potential audience of 300 million English-speakers. But to reach your audience you must first compete with the thousands of other hopeful citizen journalists. How do you write successfully for the internet and impress the professionals? From glamour.com to BBC News Interactive Garry Lemon gets the answers.
When you publish on the internet, you address a potential audience of 300 million but first you must triumph over the proliferation of other online writers. How do you overcome the odds and write successfully for the internet?
Well, the first thing I can suggest is avoiding accepting briefs from your editor which risk being judged by their own content! Write for your target audience. Put yourself in their shoes and cater to their needs and desires. For example, you probably arrived at this page wanting definitive advice about internet writing with minimum time, effort and stress expended. I catered for you by researching everything I could find, laying it out clearly and concisely and backing it up with quotes from people you consider 'in the know'.
'It's a sifting/editing/educating process. People come back to you if they feel you have done the work for them.'
Karen Haslem, macworld.co.uk
The most oft-cited annoyance of online editors is poor grammar. The basics are essential - before your copy goes online, somebody else needs to proof it. You'll be amazed at some of the errors you've made. To find out what not to do, visit http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html, a strangely addictive list of common grammatical confusions.
'I am "loosing" my mind. Jesus. Anybody who writes "loosing" deserves to be instantly dismissed. Loosers.'
Chris Lake, e-consultancy.com
The internet community is addicted to instant information. As you write, bear in mind that most readers will briefly scan chunks of text looking only for the juicy bits, so be concise. Large chunks are not scanning-friendly, so present your ideas in blocks. Give them the fastest possible route to the information. Pull quotes, headlines, sub-headings, bullet points, boxed text and logical linking are all quick information fixes.
'We know that our users scan read and will not plough through a 3,000-word feature as they might in a magazine. Keep your stories short.'
Dave Gilbert, BBC News Interactive
Try to find a balance between style and functionality. If you can inject personality into your writing whilst staying concise, people are more likely to return and explore to see what else you've written. For more in-depth free advice on the art of writing, visit http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/.
'Never write two words when one will do. That doesn't mean you can't be creative, but people are looking to get information quickly.'
Karla Bevan, glamour.com
The 'inverted pyramid' style of writing is well suited to the internet. You stuff your essentials into the start of the article, and gradually unpack the information as you write. As the information gets more focused, so the tip of the pyramid (at the bottom - remember it's inverted) gets narrower. The point being, anyone should be able to read that first paragraph and grasp the rest of the article. They'll be able to decide if they want to read on straight away.
'Allow for the gnat-sized attention span of online readers by front-loading information.'
Dennis Foy, University of Wolverhampton
Uniquely to the internet, your narrative doesn't have to stick to a single straight line. You can link to different parts of your article or website, or even other web pages. If you take full advantage of this astounding medium, people are more likely to come to your article in the first place. Just make sure your writing is good enough to bring them back to the page.
'I'm addicted to Wikipedia. I start off reading about London, move on to find out which animals could survive in the Thames, and end up finding out the ducks' quacks really do have an echo.'
Tony Fyler, fostering.net
How do you start your hits counter spinning? A good headline and summary are essential. The more relevant search terms you have closer together and nearer the top, the more attention you will attract from the search engines. Think of all the different permutations of search terms people might try in order to find your page. For the purposes of this article, for example, I should try to fit in the terms 'web-writing', 'internet writing', 'internet journalism' and any other combinations I can cook up. Your page has to instantly look like the most relevant. An unusual jpeg image can also help to draw people in from the search engines as they often have one image per story theme, and this will include another link to you.
'Always send along one or two jpegs with your article to illustrate the piece. Keep them low-resolution - and make sure they are jpegs - not tif or gif files.'
Jenny Itzcovitz, sixtyplusurfers.co.uk
...And you can't mention search engines without mentioning Google. Although obviously dominant in the internet universe, Google is no despot. It is in fact very democratic. Internet pages climb up Google's rankings fuelled by Google juice. This cannot be bought, but instead is mainly transferred to you by other pages on the web. When a site links to your page, you get a squirt of juice - how big a squirt is dictated by how much juice the linker has themselves. In short, if your page is good, other good pages will link to you, and your ranking in Google searches will climb. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/google_juice for more information.
Not all of the information here will be relevant for everything you write on the internet, as you could obviously be writing anything from a current affairs news story to a blog about your morning ablutions. If you pick out what you need, however, you should find more people read and enjoy your work. What more could a writer ask for?