Writing for the Web – Writing Online Content

Writing for the Web – Writing Online Content.


Writing should be clear, cohesive, comprehensible, concise, and correct (the 5Cs see figure 1.1 in The Complete Guide to Article Writing). Furthermore, although the individual appeal of any writer lies in her voice, every writer should have a strong understanding of style. Style is defined as generally accepted conventions of writing: punctuation, grammar, word usage, and so forth. With respect to online writing, a mastery of the 5 Cs and style is especially important because readers tend to have less patience for wading through writing that’s difficult to discern after a cursory run through.

Although a full description of the 5 Cs and style lies outside the scope of this workshop, I encourage anybody who wants to learn more to read through the first chapter titled “A Primer on Style” of my book The Complete Guide to Article Writing. This first chapter will enable any reader to adopt a bread-and-butter style that should serve him well when writing for most audiences.

The following 10 basic principles should help guide any writer of online content.

Basic Principle 1: Online writing should be short and simple. Dandified prose, which may entertain with creative works of writing, will likely discourage the online reader from reading an article in a methodical fashion. When writing for online audiences, pick shorter and more easily understood words, write shorter sentences, and keep paragraphs short, too.

Remember that, at its core, a sentence represents one idea. Longer sentences represent an interrelated idea that can often be broken up into separate sentences in order to help the online reader better understand.

Too long for an online reader: George, the head coach of the high school men’s basketball team and a former NBA point guard, is a beloved local celebrity—he has lead the varsity team to five state-championship titles in 10 years, an astounding and unequalled feat of coaching prowess.

Better: George is a former NBA point guard and head coach of the high school men’s basketball team in our town. A beloved local celebrity, he has led the varsity team to five-state championship titles in ten years. This feat of coaching prowess is astounding and unequalled.

Sentences with compound predicates also make for complicated online reading. Such sentences can often be broken up in order to make for easier reading.

Complex: Maria met her friend Pete for an early breakfast and ordered bacon, eggs, toast, and a cup of coffee.

Better: Maria met her friend Pete for an early breakfast. She ordered bacon, eggs, toast, and a cup of coffee.

With respect to decreasing the total number of words and energizing your writing, it’s a good idea to prefer active verbs to passive ones, omit needless words and expressions (“the fact that”), and avoid nominalizations. To learn more, I encourage you to refer to The Complete Guide to Article Writing.

Whereas single sentences represent singular ideas, paragraphs are often made up of a few sentences representing singular ideas that are linked thematically. Imagine a single sentence as a strawberry and a paragraph as a basket of strawberries. (For more on this “strawberry” analogy check out page 30 of The Complete Guide to Article Writing.)

Alternatively, and especially with online (and AP-style) writing, a paragraph can take the form of a single sentence as long as this sentence represents an idea that is distinct within the context of your writing. With online writing, don’t feel compelled to add extra sentences to appease some misguided aesthetic sensibility–if you can figure out how to make a single sentence work, go for it!

The above text is a partial lecture from the Writing Online Content Workshop. Learn more here!

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