Want to know how to write for the web? Then you need to start with one important concept: readability.
Today, clarity and readability have become more important than ever.
People are busier … attention spans are shorter … reading surfaces are smaller.
Plus, we’re living in an ocean of noise.
Everyone and their grandmother are clambering for your attention.
So, without further ado, let’s look at how to write for the web.
How to Write for the Web: 5 Readability Tips
Short attention spans require short writing.
So it makes sense that our first tip is all about being concise…
1. Keep Paragraphs Short
Most web writers and copywriters recommend 1-3 sentences.
In books and academic papers, 5 sentences is okay. But for the web, 5 sentences is too much. In fact, 3 sentences can seem pretty long. By the time you get to 4 sentences, you’re straining your reader’s attention span…
So don’t do that.
Remember that digital media isn’t the same as print media.
Screen reading is more taxing on the eyes. And today’s busybody prefers to skim, scan, and skip.
Which is why you should also…
2. Keep Sentences Short
Shorter sentences are easier to digest.
Because they require less cognitive effort, people are more likely to keep reading them.
Cognitive load is a psychology term that refers to “mental effort.” Web designers and usability experts make use of this concept to create more usable products.
Low cognitive load is good – the less people have to think, the easier a product is to use.
And the same goes for reading.
The more mental energy people have to expend, the more tired they will become. And the less likely they are to keep reading.
3. Break Up Sentences with Punctuation
When it comes to web writing – whether you’re writing blog articles, landing pages, or emails – white space is your friend.
Study after study has shown that white space improves usability, readability, and user experiences.
The same principle holds true in both business and writing … what stands out gets noticed.
Now, obviously I’m exaggerating to make a point … you can definitely overuse punctuation … like ellipses …but used properly, they help isolate and highlight text.
Using punctuation is in line with the other principles mentioned here. Create white space and use punctuation to “set apart” text. This will prevent the “wall of text” problem and make your text much more readable.
I employ punctuation such as:
Parentheses can be useful (but to be honest I rarely use them, except in specific types of sales letters).
You should avoid semicolons and only use some colons, except in titles or sub-headings.
And, to be honest, I think the semicolon is going the way of the dinosaur.
4. Stylize Fonts to Highlight Important Points
Another way to highlight important ideas is by stylizing fonts.
Eyes are drawn to stylized text, particularly bold text
Use italics to emphasize text or to refer to special terms
Underlining also works
Another way to take advantage of font styling is to use hyperlinks.
Hyperlinks automatically style the anchor text, so that’s another way to draw attention to specific words or phrases.
5. Use Bullet Lists
Finally, make heavy use of bullet lists.
There are several reasons for this:
Bullet lists catch the eye
They are easy to skim, digest, and read
They break up articles that would otherwise become “walls of text”
You’ll also notice that this entire article is a numbered list.
This type of article, called a listicle, is extremely popular because it’s so easy to digest.
Listicles, numbered lists, bullet lists, and other list types are very readable.
Include these in your text and readers can instantly get the gist of your article.
Which brings us to the final point…
Conclusion: Write for Skimmers … Scanners … And Skippers
Hopefully by now you have a better idea of how to write for the web.
The goal — be concise and write for skimmers.
I’d love it if readers hung and clung to every single word that I wrote … but blog articles aren’t Shakespeare plays. Or poetry. Or novels.
Web readers are searchers … they’re on a mission … and they’re looking for information or solutions.
Copywriting and web writing should help them in their quest. To do that, writers need to inform, influence, persuade, and guide readers towards a solution. Naturally, that solution is almost always your product or service.
Because most web writing is marketing, not creative writing.
If you write content and copy that is readable, enjoyable, and informative, then you gain trust, loyalty, and authority.
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