Monday, October 13, 2014

Writing for the Web: The Four Major Lessons That I've Learned

by A.L. Woods, Staff Writer

As a child, when I dreamed of one day becoming a professional writer, my vision always included writing books, writing for magazines, or writing for newspapers. Little did I know that when the smoke cleared that my primary writing venue of choice would be the Web. Here are four major lessons that I've learned since I started writing for the Web.
  1. Web writing is a whole other animal from offline writing. The biggest thing that surprised me when I first started writing in this genre was how different it was from writing offline. In fact, I needed to reference an industry-specific style guide in order to create effective content. I found that articles needed to be more concise, that it was important that the formatting allowed the reader's eye to flow, and that interactive context, e.g., hyperlinking to information sources, videos, and photos, was essential for the completion of a good article.
  2. Don't get fancy with headlines. I've always been a very creative writer, especially in the area of titling my work. I was very surprised to find that SEO (search engine optimization), i.e., writing headlines that readers could find easily when doing searches through the search engines through the judicious use of keywords, held a slightly higher importance than plays on words to make headlines more interesting. Don't get me wrong; you do want the headline to appeal to the reader. There's just a slight tipping of the scales in the direction of the search engines for your keyword use.
  3. Break it up. Formatting is a very important element in writing for the Web. As a writer, you must always keep in the back of your mind that the text should be broken up in such a manner that the reader doesn't feel like he's looking at a huge chunk of block text. This can be accomplished by utilizing paragraphing, bullet points, numbering, subheadings, etc. Bolding and italics can also help with the visual flow of your piece.
  4. Create original content, but incorporate other ideas. As in offline writing, one of the mantras of online writing is that you should create original content. The additional proviso in web writing is that while creating this content you should incorporate other ideas and sources of information into your piece by hyperlinking to and citing the sources of your thought content.
Even though I initially had a slight learning curve while adjusting to the differences in style between print writing and web writing, I found that with practice and diligent study of online writing style guides, such as the Yahoo Style Guide, that I was able to transition into this area of writing without much difficulty. If you're considering writing for the Web as a career, you should be able to do it too. It's just a matter of adapting what you already know into the documented style that's been found most effective, entertaining, and educational for online readers.

Sources: Writing for the Web 7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website's Usability
Macmillan Publishers: Yahoo! Style Guide
Personal experience
*Photo: Juha Siltala via Flickr

[Originally published on Yahoo! Voices on 06/27/2014 (no longer published there).]