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        Writing for the Web

        © 2012 Elena Fawkner

        When researching this week抯 article, I went looking for
        resources related to 搘riting for the web?  I found a great
        deal of useful information, which I抦 going to share with you
        in a minute.  But in my travels, I came across this little gem
        from the website of a professional writer, no less, trying to
        sell me on why I should use his services if I want to make a
        good impression on my website visitors:


        揟oday's readers and Web browsers demand frankness and
        verisimilitude, so your written communications require exacting
        professional integrity with accurate and adequate research.

        "For concrete, colorful and dynamic written material that willfully
        attracts customers, Bob Tony* will work with you to develop
        unrivaled written communications for your marketing materials,
        grants, newsletters, Web site, or other publications and articles.
        To ensure your writing tasks with pacesetting presentation and
        unparalleled, consistent editorial power, give your deadlines to
        Bob Tony*.?

        * Name changed to protect the ostentatious and largiloquent.

        Good grief.  揤erisimilitude?  I had to look it up.  I抦 sure you
        all know what it means but in case there抯 another ignoramus out
        there besides me, it means 搕he quality of appearing to be true or
        real?  How ironic.  揥illfully?attracting customers?  And does
        that last sentence even make sense?

        Consider that a shining example of how it抯 NOT done (writing for
        the web, that is).

        Before we get to *how* to write well for the web, a brief pause
        to consider *why* it抯 important to do so at all.  The reason is
        that the Internet is an information medium.  As a general rule,
        people are looking for information about something when they
        come online.  You have to supply some of the information sought
        by part of that market (i.e., your target market) if you want your
        share of traffic to your website.  You do that by creating quality
        content.  In order to create quality content, you need to be able
        to write for the web.  Is writing for the web really all that
        different from writing generally?  Yes.  And here抯 why.


        The first thing you need to understand is how users read on the
        web.  Unlike reading a book, online readers scan, or skim, the
        page, looking for particular keywords relevant to the subject
        about which they are interested.  They don抰 start at the top of
        the page and work their way down, reading every sentence. 

        Some other things you need to know about your typical site
        visitor (let抯 just call him Sam to make it easier):  Sam detests
        hyperbole.  Nothing turns him off faster.  So keep the marketing
        hype to a minimum and instead make your content objective
        and somewhat restrained. 

        Sam is also an impatient sod.  He抯 going to quickly scan the
        page (as we've seen) and he抯 going to rely on your headings
        and subheadings to orient himself.  And he doesn抰 want to have
        to hunt for your point.  Give it to him upfront.  Also, because
        Sam really hates this, avoid lengthy webpages that make him
        have to scroll to keep reading.  And keep the whole thing short
        and to the point besides.  If you don抰, he抯 out of there in five
        seconds flat.

        So, now that we understand a little bit about Sam, what can
        we do to capture his attention and keep it long enough to give
        him what he wants?


        To help Sam scan your text and find what he抯 looking for quickly,
        highlight keywords and phrases (either by bolding, using color, a
        different font effect, whatever will catch his attention).  Make
        sure you use meaningful subheadings, i.e. ensure your subheading
        makes sense without having to read the text below to put it into

        Avoid lengthy paragraphs and make sure each paragraph deals
        with only one idea.  Instead of long paragraphs, use bulleted lists
        containing short, high-impact sentences. 

        Another crucial point is to use the 搃nverted pyramid?principle. 
        This just means that you state your conclusion or most important
        information up front, and then use the rest of the body of your
        text to elaborate and explain.  Kind of like a newspaper story.

        And because Sam hates to scroll, break your text into logical
        stand-alone sub-parts of no longer than a single page (or
        screen) and then link (with a meaningfully-worded link) to the
        next section which starts on a new page.


        Make sure your writing is not woolly.  You need to write with the
        precision of a surgeon wielding a scalpel.  No superfluous words
        allowed.  Write for effect, by all means, but get to the point and
        fast!  In other words, be succinct.


        Nothing gets that mouse finger itchier than the perception that
        the author of the work lacks credibility.  The top three culprits
        are hyperbole (avoid marketing hype at all costs and go for
        restrained objectivity instead), typos and grammatical errors. 

        Sam likes to think you抳e done your homework too so make sure
        you include links to reputable sources elsewhere on the web (but
        not too many or you risk losing him for good). 


        One of the major differences in writing for the web compared to
        other forms of writing is the inherently impersonal nature of the
        medium.  Instead of holding a comfortably reassuring book in
        his hands, or getting black smudge on his fingers from the
        newspaper, Sam抯 only contact with you is your words on a
        computer screen.  You need to overcome the impersonal nature
        of the medium if you expect to reach Sam with your words.  It
        is for this reason that 搘rite as you speak?is so much the norm
        on the Internet. 

        Be informal and conversational in your writing (note, this is NOT
        a license to churn out shoddy, unprofessional work- writing
        conversationally and informally is every bit as demanding as
        writing formally, if not more so) and be personal while you抮e at
        it (use 搚ou?and 搚our?a lot).  Most importantly, allow your
        personality to come through.  You need to connect with Sam
        before he will invest in you so make sure you reach him with
        your writing.


        Finally, just because it抯 less comfortable to read from a computer
        screen than a book or newspaper doesn抰 mean you can抰 make it
        less uncomfortable.  Choose the font you use with care.  Times is
        a common default font for a lot of web pages but it doesn抰
        損ixellate?well.  Better choices are Arial or Verdana.

        Consider your choice of color and contrast carefully too.  A dark
        font on a light background is best for lengthy reading sessions but
        a light font on a dark background can be effective if used

        So there you have it.  Some relatively quick and easy steps
        you can take today to make it more likely Sam will get your
        message.  And come back for more.


        Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online ... practical ideas, resources and strategies for your home-based or online business. http://www.shelteredturtle.com

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