Learning to write for the Web just got a little easier. Posting on the RTDNA site, reporter Lynn Walsh put together this terrific list of eight elements for online writing.
1. Keep it short and sweet. Keep sentences short. Omit unnecessary words. Only include one idea per paragraph. Keep paragraphs short: tell the reader to “read me.”
2. Subheads are key. Remember readers are scanning — make it easy for them! Use subheads to show them where to go in the story. Use keywords that make sense in the subhead titles.
3. Lists and bullets are your friend. Use whenever possible! It makes keywords stick out.
– It breaks up content
– It looks more readable
– It seems more manageable
That reads better than: “It breaks up the content, it looks more readable and it seems more manageable.”
4. Be conversational. Use active words. Actually talk to the reader. This is a lot more like broadcast writing style then print. Use words like “you” and “we.” Use words that people know — even if spellcheck says they don’t exist!
5. Remember the inverted pyramid. Keep the most important information up top, but do it because it is important not because of space issues. On the internet you have as much space as you need — use lists and subheads to highlight that information up top, then go into more detail.
6. Links are crucial. They provide readers with more information. They can help move your article up in searches (if the links work). They also make certain words stand out to readers.
7. Bold, italicize, uppercase. In lists, in paragraphs and in subheads. Be careful to not do it to much though — it can look messy. (Also, always be sure to check with your news organizations policy on this!)
8. Be direct. Web readers are there for information — GIVE IT TO THEM! Do not dance around the subject.
What Lynn is talking about can be called “visual writing” — creating copy with lots of white space that looks accessible and visually appealing o the reader.
Craving more advice? Check out this oldie but goodie on Web writing from usability guru Jakob Nielsen.