argument is that web readers are in a hurry, so they
probably aren't going to read the entire article as they would
in a print publication.
My background is journalism. I have been a writer with
The Wall Street Journal and editor of a local daily newspaper.
During my first course in journalism 40 years ago, the professor
said something rather shocking: "Newspaper readers
are in a hurry, so they probably aren't going to read your
This was very demoralizing, because we all believed that the
objective of journalism was to write articles that people
would read all the way through. Our egos were bruised. The
professor, who knew what we were thinking, continued. "Our
purpose is not for people to read everything we write, but
to dispense useful information. As a writer, you are not the
best judge of what is useful. Only the reader is."
If you think about it, this assertion should come as no surprise.
When you start reading an article in a newspaper, how often
do you actually finish it? Chances are not very often. News
articles are specifically designed to help you decide how
much you really need to read, so you can quickly go on to
something else. If this weren't the case, people wouldn't
read newspapers at all, because it would take them all day
to do so.
The fact is, all these articles about writing for the web
generally tell you what journalists have known for centuries.
There may be some technical things about writing for the web
that should be taken into account, just as there are about
writing for print. However, good writing is good writing,
so the differences pale into insignificance compared to the
the point, here is a list of tips and recommendations proffered
by these articles.
When you write for the web
keep in mind that your readers probably aren't going
to read your entire content as they would a print publication.
This statement, discussed above, is worth repeating
because it is usually the "most important"
thing these articles tell you. As we have just seen,
it is nonsense. We could perhaps make a distinction
between a daily newspaper and a weekly or monthly magazine.
Magazine readers generally do have more time to read.
Nevertheless, it still is not the objective of professional
writers that people read their articles from beginning
to end, because for the vast majority of readers doing
so simply wouldn't be worth their while.
Limit Your Text To 600 - 700 Words
Again, this statement is nonsense. There is no arbitrary limit
to how many words people will read; that depends on the article
and their interest in it.
Personally, I have stopped reading almost anything I find
on the web that is less than 600 - 700 words, because such
articles are generally shallow and prescriptive. So many of
them offer a list of three, five or ten things you must do
to achieve a particular objective. But they seldom give you
sufficient (if any) explanation of why you should do them,
other than because the writer says so.
Another argument asserts that you should limit yourself to
only 600 - 700 words "because people don't like to read
long texts on the screen". This is also fallacious. If
people find an article sufficiently interesting but difficult
to read on the screen, they will simply print it out and read
it on paper.
Use Headings and Subheadings
for this, we are told, is because web surfers like to read
in "nuggets", i.e. small bits of text rather than
long, flowing verbiage. This is a valid point. And is what
newspapers and magazines have been doing for ever.
There is, however, a much more important reason for using
headings and subheadings. They allow readers to pick and choose
the information they want to read, which is also something
newspapers and magazines have been doing for ever. Most good
articles start off with an overview (the "lead"
in journalese). The overall theme is then broken down into
five or six sub-themes. As a reader, you may not be interested
in exploring all of them, but only one or two in particular.
The subheadings show you exactly where they are. In other
words, you don't have to read everything in the article to
find the particular information you are looking for. The subheadings
lead you right to it.
Write Shorter Paragraphs
at newspapers and magazines. Long paragraphs are generally
conspicuous by their absence. Occasionally, you will even
find paragraphs as short as a single sentence. Why? The technical
reason is to help the reader's eye to move comfortably down
the page. A more important reason is that shorter paragraphs
make it easier for readers to rapidly absorb what is written.
Grammarians sometimes criticize newspapers and magazines for
their illogical paragraphs. However, they make no pretence
of being logical, but rather psychological.
It is true that search engines will more easily pick up your
text if you consistently use shorter paragraphs. This is indeed
specific to writing for the web and not to be neglected. However,
since you should be writing this way anyhow, search engine
optimization (SEO) becomes a bonus, not a raison d'ętre.
5. Write Tightly In
other words, eliminate unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, jargon,
etc., that add nothing to meaning, but simply clutter the
page. Duh! This is what professional newspaper and magazine
writers do as a matter of course; otherwise, they wouldn't
have a job.
Writing tightly also means eliminating anything that is not
germane to the text. That odd fact you picked up or that cute
anecdote may be very interesting. However, if they do not
advance the purpose of your article, they become distractions.
Get rid of them and save them for another article where they
might really add something.
Put Key Information Up Front
web users scan articles, you need to get out the basic tenants
of your article in the beginning of the text." Duh!
Newspaper and magazine readers also scan articles. In fact,
there is a journalistic technique called the "inverted
pyramid" that specifically addresses this phenomenon.
The inverted pyramid is like a triangle standing on its point.
All the key information is put at the top (the "lead"),
with detailed information filling in the rest of the pyramid
(the "body) in descending order of importance.
By reading the first couple of paragraphs or so, you get a
good overview of what the article is all about. You can then
decide to continue reading or go on to something else. Moreover,
because the information in the body is arranged in descending
order of importance, you can stop reading at virtually any
point you want in full confidence that you will not be missing
something seriously important further down. Arranging information
in descending order of importance makes the inverted pyramid
extremely useful to readers and a major challenge to writers.
Mastering the art of putting information into descending order
of importance is a key attribute that distinguishes a professional
writer (one who gets paid for writing) from an amateur.
In conclusion, note that this article runs to 1382 words.
If you have read this far, it is because you felt you were
getting something of value. It is as short as it possibly
could be while still saying everything that needed to be said.
If it had been artificially restricted to 600 - 700 words,
it would have been too short -- and most likely a terrible
waste of your time.