Easy on the Eye: Writing for the Web

By: Alexa Lacuna

Even aside from the requirements of search engine optimisation, writing for the web is significantly different to writing for print.

Many of the most important of these differences are results of the fact that reading from a monitor puts more strain on the eye than reading from paper. This extra strain means readers are more likely to skim-read the text - or ignore it all together.

Consequently, most websites tend to focus on images and bold headings to get their messages across; but, in many cases, text is still a requirement.

At its simplest, writing for the web means using much shorter sentences and paragraphs than would be appropriate for print publication. Where the average paragraph for paper may have five or six lines, there should ideally be no more than three of four on-screen. As can be seen in this paragraph, long paragraphs are not only harder to read fully, they are also much harder to interpret from only a skim-read.

With short paragraphs, the key words leap right off the screen.

Conciseness is also important for the overall article, so word count should be kept to a minimum. As a rule of thumb, the reader should not have to scroll down to read the article - this usually means a word count of around 300 words.

Clarity is also incredibly important in the content. The usual writing requirements - the opening introducing the article, each point being made separately and the final paragraph concluding the points - are, for this reason, even stricter with online publication.

The reader must have a clear idea of the text's purpose from the outset. The title must be specific and attention grabbing, and it is imperative that the opening summarises the article's key points. Each paragraph must be clear, concise and consistently readable.

The 'switch off' rate for online writing is incredibly high, and this is not just because of the difficulty of reading from a monitor. A particular concern for sales writing is that it is very easy for a potential customer to move away from your pitch and on to those of your competitors.

Web content, of course, must be as informative, interesting and well written as any other piece of writing; but the ease with which readers can be lost by inappropriately crafted text can must not be underestimated.

One key requirement of both forms - but one that is often overlooked in online writing - is proofreading. Many people choose to write their own web content - believing that the quality of writing is of minimal importance to their site - and lose potential custom as a result.

Poorly written and badly proofread text gives the stark impression of unprofessionalism and a lack of attention to detail. Poor grammar and spelling can literally mean that the site is not selling what it appears to be selling - or simply reduce the potential customer's faith in the company.

Commissioning a professional copywriter is the best way to ensure effective web content; but where this is not possible, a focus on the copywriter's ABC can suffice:

Always Be Concise.

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