Improve your writing on the web

Some things just become better with practice. I never realized the importance of this dictum until I started this blog myself.

There were some tenets of writing on the web that I knew theoretically but never really felt the importance of until I put those ideas into practice myself.

Through numerous trials and errors and experimentation, I’m afraid, on my extremely generous readers, who have always been ready with their good words, I’ve come to make the following observations about blog writing specifically and writing on the web generally:

The title is important. The title has to (a) clearly indicate the topic (b) be creative or cute or curiosity inducing in some way while at the same time be (c) search engine friendly. Practice helps one learn how to balance the tension between the interests of (a), (b), and (c) since their thrusts are not always in the same direction. Only practice improves the grasp over catchy yet meaningful titles.

The first few lines have to do it. There is too much writing on the internet, too many distractions on the web and too little time. People will browse through your writing very casually and so those first few lines are crucial. Those lines have to attract (use a quote, anecdote, powerful statement of topic or something important) and carry a general sense of the main idea. The first few lines, along with the topic will determine whether the reader will click or scroll to read the rest.

Paragraphs need to be foregrounded. Since readers skim down the screen, most general readers who are not coming to your writing to get specialized information will skim through the first few words of every paragraph to determine if your piece is relevant. If you bury important information in the middle of the paragraph, the reader will not see it. So the topic sentence has to provide the main idea of the paragraph and be attractive as well.

Paragraphs need to be broken down. Paragraphs on the screen need to be shorter than paragraphs in print, especially for non-specialized information. It’s better to set apart extremely important information in a new paragraph so that it surely catches the reader’s eye. If you’re used to writing traditional essays, as I am, this can get tricky since too many breaks can give a fragmented impression while long chunks lose the reader.

Headings, sub-headings and hyperlinks need to be  used. I cannot stress the importance of using these markers enough for informational or idea-based critical writing on the web. I have seen many excellent pieces of writing on the web which are simply paper-essays in electronic form which become very hard to read. Long paragraphs or long chunks without any change in the terrain of the screen for the eye to anchor itself on has made me lose the thread of many a nuanced argument when written on the screen. Chunking information into sections with headings or hyper-linked parts really helps.

Formulas need to be broken. If you are a good writer, try breaking these rules a little at a time, preferably not all at the same time, to see how people react to it. This can only be done on a trial and error basis and this is where practice comes in. No one wants to read boring, formulaic writing and so getting rid of the formulas in a knowledgeable way once you’ve got the hang of it is the last step.

©bottledworder, 2012.

38 thoughts on “Improve your writing on the web”

  1. Pingback: Versatile?
  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I am just another fish in the big sea of bloggers trying to make my way through and I had been doing some of things you touched upon but there are other reas I see that I can be working on. Just what I needed right now! 🙂

    ~ O


  3. Nicely said. It seems to me that you’ve arrived at a powerful formula for your blog, and you’ve done it in a comfortable way. Going through earlier and later posts, the growth is obvious and compelling. I like it here.


  4. Great post. I agree with all points, but occasionally have broken rules (probably not successfully :)) I think the most important thing is the paragraph size. When I come to a big block o text, my attention span dwindles. Sometimes paragraphs can’t be shortened, but a photo or two in a post helps.


  5. This is very interesting. Somewhat bizarrely I have spent quite a lot of my longish life working out and then telling people about the best way to write for interpretation panels (the ‘boards’ that you see on historic sites, country parks and the like). Your guidelines are hugely similar to that. I was especially thrilled to see the bit about breaking paragraphs where you wouldn’t in an essay. I have come to exactly the same conclusions as you ad suspect this is because we are both talking about writing that people skim looking for the content that appeals. Fascinating. I am pleased to have found your blog.


  6. Thanks for the tips. I’ve mentioned before that I am new to this type of writing, so I appreciate the advice. I read a ton, but I guess I have never really paid attention to those nuances.


  7. Well done! Cogent reasoning, well-developed arguments keep the light focused clearly on your subject. I’m following this blog — be certain of that — but I’ll also “favorite” this particular post to help me with my own occasional struggles with “selling” my material.


  8. Very good points and great advice. I remember taking a writing class in university and often thought about whether it could be applied to blogs. But what you said is very true. Applying that style of writing for a blog makes it difficult to read, and frankly, too stiff sounding. I dislike reading long paragraphs. They really turn me off when I’m reading blogs, forums, or any news on the internet.


  9. Oh, what a nice blog you have!

    I have such a hard time figuring out titles and haven’t practiced using headings and sub-headings, but I shall try it out!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.


  10. Thank you, this post has given me a lot to think about! Especially in the title area. I hate thinking of titles so I just put something in, but I’ll put more effort into making it meaningful.


  11. Agreed on all counts, though I think #2 (the first few lines) are equally important regardless of the writing forum. Those first few lines have to be tight, clear, and entice the reader to keep reading.


  12. Great advice, as always! It’s easy to forget how different it can be to write for the web. I particularly liked the advice about breaking up paragraphs. Big blocks of text look great on a page, but they are difficult to follow on a computer screen.


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