When I was in journalism school, our writing classes focused on feature writing and news writing. The Internet was in its infancy, so there was no formal instruction on “writing for the Web.” But to me—and I would guess many other J-school graduates—writing is writing. The audience and the medium are different, but we adapt our style accordingly.
In learning to adapt my style for the Web, I discovered “Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works,” by Janice Redish. This book—filled with practical advice and case studies—is one of the best I’ve read about Web writing. Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen says: “I must recommend that you read every word so that you can find out why your customers won’t read very many words on your website.”
For those who can’t read every word, here are a few gems from the book:
• “Most Web users are very busy people who want to read only as much as they need to satisfy the goal that brought them to the web. Good web writing is like a conversation; it answers people’s questions; and it lets people grab and go.”
• “Think of your web content as your part of a conversation—not a rambling dialogue, but a focused conversation started by a very busy person.”
• “Writing informally is not dumbing down. It’s communicating clearly. It’s writing so that busy people can understand what you are saying the first time that they read it.”
• “Use your web users’ words. Some writers try to sound impressive by using big words. If those big words aren’t the ones readers know, they won’t be impressed. They’ll give up on your web site and go to someone else who speaks their language.”
• “Show that you are a person and that your organization includes people. If you are writing your own articles, ‘I’ is fine. When writing for an organization, use ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘our.’ The more you do to make your site visitors feel that you are in the conversation with them on all your web pages, the more comfortable most people feel.”
• “As you write: Ask yourself: What would people ask me about this topic on the phone? Reply to them as if you were on the phone.”
• “Make the link meaningful . . .Links that just say Click here, Here, More, or Answer give no clue about what will come up if we click on them. They don’t allow us to separate one link from another. And they draw attention away from the meaningful information.”
• “Don’t just slap headings into old content. Going through existing content and putting in a heading every so often does not usually produce a good document. That’s actually a good technique as a first step in revision — a way to become more familiar with the content you are working with. But it’s a terrible technique if you stop there. You will probably want to reorganize and rewrite the content with new headings in a new order.”
Readers, care to share any web writing techniques you’ve found helpful?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her writing about writing at www.impertinenetremarks.com.