Writing For The Web

Posted on June 16, 2009

Categories: Blog

Writing is easy. Writing well is hard.

Text is not just “another visual element.” Words are essential when you explain, persuade and inspire.

Here are some tips for web writing:

Start with concepts, not copying. What are your big ideas? What do you want your site to say to the world? Some people mistakenly think that writing website text simply means cutting and pasting prose from advertising and marketing materials. But ideally, text should be as unique as the design of a site.

Imagine the reader’s POV. Before you outline thoughts for writing a web page, ask yourself: What do visitors want to learn here? What would surprise and delight them? What “proof” of the quality of our company, products and services can win their trust?

Your “voice” shouldn’t be silent. All writing has a voice or style, even if it’s dull and boring. Before you begin writing, try to imagine what voice your readers would like. Do prospective customers want “just the facts, ma’m”…or should you exude ‘tude? Once you find your voice, try to be consistent in keeping that style from page to page.

K.I.S.S. — Keep It Smartly Simple. Writing for the web is challenging because readers often just skim, scroll and surf. But if your text is informative and succinct, people are more likely to appreciate what they’re reading and slow down to read it carefully.

Turn text into hidden treasure. Write and embed key words to attract the search engines.

Avoid clichés like the plague. That joke is a cliché, but the point is valid: Don’t use clichés and buzzwords when you can express something more clearly in plain English.

Avoid industry jargon.
Don’t write for your bureaucracy. Write for prospective customers, potential employees, curious journalists… So, don’t assume that they know all the insider and technical terms. And avoid using too many polysyllabic words (like “polysyllabic”) because when big words are strung together in one sentence the prose can seem impenetrable. (Example: “Our web infrastructure support system routinely aggregates and systematizes users’ database predilections, to facilitate communications between support personnel dedicated to problem-resolution and….”)

Highlight the interesting. When writing a headline, make sure it is attention-worthy. Don’t lose readers by stressing the obvious. Words should be meaningful, not just there to fill space. So be descriptive and assertive in your writing — not vague and lifeless.

Break up big grey paragraphs. Since people skim, make your key points stand out as bold sub-heads or different colors.

Don’t rely on SpellCheck for proofreading. There, their, they’re…are all spelled correctly, but only one is right in a given sentence. If you are not a talented proofreader, find people who are, and ask them to check your text before posting it. And don’t tell them that other people are proofreading it as well, because then they often assume that someone else has already found the errors and they won’t scrutinize it as diligently.

Be cautious in making claims. A common tendency in sales and advertising is to over-sell. But don’t be so eager to impress visitors at your site that you make promises, implicit or explicit, that you can’t keep.

Never plagiarize. You may love the text at another site, but don’t succumb to the temptation of copying it. If you change a few words while keeping the rest, it is still plagiarism, and a quick search of key words will identify the original source. So, avoid embarrassment: be original.

Triple-check your “facts.” The Internet is full of bogus facts. People routinely forward quotes attributed to sources who never said them (Abe Lincoln, George Carlin, Robin Williams…) and Wikipedia is notorious for having misinformation planted there by pranksters. Before you post a “well-known fact,” do whatever research is necessary to make sure it is indeed a fact.

Lead with the important stuff. Because some people don’t read all the way to…the end…