Want to improve your web writing skills? This short tutorial will 1) help you break old writing habits that don’t work on the web and 2) show you how to develop a writing style that’s more ‘natural’ for blogging.
Breaking bad writing habits
Ok, this is a bit harsh but what I want to do is get you away from how you were taught in school.
Academic writing doesn’t work on the web. Neither does formal business writing.
To write for the web, examine how others use it to search, digest, and share information.
Here’s how to get started:
- Go to the newsagent
- Buy a local newspaper, national paper and business magazine
- Get a yellow marker
- Start reading
Underline every piece of text you read. Ignore the rest. Do this for five minutes, then stop.
How we scan text offline
What do you notice?
The page will be streaked with yellow lines here and there. There will no logical order.
But lots of underlines where your eye fell on text, read a little, and then moved on.
Why is this important?
Because this is how most of us read. We don’t actually read.
- We search for text
- Find what we like
- Dig deeper for a few minutes (at most) and then
- Search for the next piece
Of course, you do slow down when you’re reading certain pieces. But, when reading, say the sports section, you skip and bounce over the words looking for scores, quotes and other snippets.
You don’t ‘read’ read if that makes sense.
How we scan text online
Let’s move over to the web.
When you’re reading text on the web, your eye roves over the screen. It doesn’t start at the top and read each and every word.
You’re in a hurry. Pushed for time, seeking information, scanning blocks of text looking for clues.
So, how can we use this when writing blogs and developing web content.
When I work with clients, I usually start by showing them Before and After writing samples.
This shows them a few things:
- How difficult it was to read their materials
- How ineffective it was in getting engagement
- How it demotivated readers from continuing
- How it made the sales process almost impossible and
- How it persuaded customers to leave the site
No sane person wants this.
We all want customers to stay on site, engage, and buy our stuff. Otherwise, what are we doing online?
How to write for the web
While I can’t teach you to be professional web writer in one tutorial, you can use these tips to get started.
- Get to the point. Immediately.
- Identify the main topic. “What you’re going to learn here is…”
- Use short headlines. Include one feature and one benefit.
- Keep paragraphs under three sentences.
- Break up text fast. See how daily newspapers do it. There’s no waffle.
- Use short, not long words. Buy instead of procure. Get instead of acquire. Fast instead of rapid.
- Use bullet lists to callout takeaways.
- If you’re going to use images, add a caption.
- Use ragged text. Don’t force the text to align with the right margin.
- Use white space to help the page breath.
- Use short hyperlinks. Don’t under-link entire sentences.
- Use the word ‘you’ everywhere. I’m writing this post for YOU.
It takes practice to ‘re-learn’ how to write for the web; after all, you’ve spent years writing in a different style, so it’s going to take time to change.
Look at how others do it. See how John structures this post, how Eamonn uses a natural writing style, Gene uses lists to break up text, and Ryan provides lots of white space to improve readability.
The end result is a confident writing style that draws you in and makes you want to continue. And it’s not difficult to acquire. But you have to decide you want to make it happen.
Over to you.
What blogger has the best writing style? What have you learned from the way they write?