5 rules of writing for the Web

Break one, and you risk losing your readers to one of the infinite distractions on the Internet.

Let’s stop and think a moment about your changing role and responsibility as a corporate communicator. You’ve evolved from writer to content provider. You provide usable chunks of information for online readership.

That may sound less than glamorous, but it’s true, whether you write a story or blog post for the intranet or online, or whether your readers consume your copy on a computer, iPad or smartphone.

What must you demand of your writing now that people consume it online?

1. Be considerate.

Your readers deal with unprecedented levels of information and email overload. You owe it to them to produce content that’s intuitive and easy to scan and understand. Consider it an act of kindness and sensitivity.

This brings us to how to package content. Here, we do well to borrow from the field of applied industrial design, and from the Bauhaus belief that design should be simple, yet expressive. This so greatly inspired the clean, intuitive and minimalistic product design of Steve Jobs.

2. Be simple—really simple.

The information you present online must be unsparingly clear: simple and free of jargon and anything non-essential. Not dumbed down, just streamlined. Ask yourself: “How can I get to the point faster?” “What can I take out to make this more effective?”

Don’t review for grammar and spelling only. Review to eliminate redundancies like “completely eliminate,” “absolutely essential,” “foreign imports,” “free gifts,” or “every single hour.” (Hour is singular, which makes “single” redundant).

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, as Steve Jobs used to say. He was right.

3. Connect the dots.

Think about the desired business outcome of your communication, not necessarily the communication result. If you write for a leader or manager, walk a mile in her shoes. Close your eyes for a minute. Think about the people in your audience and the action your leader wants them to take.

4. Be approachable and engaging.

Be playful and irreverent wherever possible and appropriate. Keep your readers’ attention; like it or not, you have to compete for it with scads of infotainment on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Be inventive in your turns of phrase, and be sure to look for the story behind the story. The old rules of journalism apply here. Make sure your sentences and paragraphs transition smoothly and logically. Unpack the narrative in a compelling way to engage readers.

5. Be spare.

A spare and functional design is paramount, including the strategic use of subheads and chunked content. This way, your readers can quickly scan if they don’t have time to read the entire article, which is frequently the case.

Arrange your online content to be easy on the eye, and make sure your words have room to breathe. Don’t make it an eye chart; use white space strategically.

What do you think?

Dom Crincoli is principal and senior strategic consultant at Crincoli Communications, and blogs at DomCrincoli.com where a version of this article originally appeared.


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