Writing For The Web: Write Less, Write Concise, Write Inverted

I’m lucky — the third time I dropped out of college, I was moving towards a Journalism degree. That taught me a lot of things (write less, write in inverted pyramid, headlines are very, very important), and many of those things apply to the Web more so.

Here’s a few tips that I’ve found, other than this article about writing for the internet:

  • Write clear, concise headlines. No one does this better than Jakob Nielsen — they don’t necessarily have to be completely accurate, but the headlines should be interesting enough so people actually want to read the article.
  • Write in inverted pyramid style. One of the first methods of writing I was taught was writing in the inverted pyramid — put the most important items first. This comes from journalism where sometimes articles have to be edited down because of space constraints, and even has more importance because of the difference of screen sizes. The inverted pyramid has an additional benefit: search engines love this method of writing, so much so that it’ll index these pages much higher.
  • Long paragraphs should be edited down. For many of the news stories I used to write, we’d use only one or two sentences per paragraph (again, easier to edit). The same goes for the web. If it’s longer than a few sentences, think of breaking up the paragraph so it’s easier to read.
  • Long articles should be paired down, or split into multiple articles. Studies have shown that people read 25 percent slower on screen versus print. Who wants to read a 500 word article on an iPhone?
  • Articles should almost designed so they can be scanned. Notice how I use bold to illustrate main points, and normal text to elaborate. Bullet lists to illustrate points, quotes from other articles split out, and many paragraphs breaks make articles easy to be read.

It’s all about writing for the medium, and remembering the target audience. If you don’t, you are failing them.