5 reasons why writing for the web is different

I recently attended a day’s course on website editing, with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

It was shortly before I started the 30 Day Blogging Challenge, but good timing as there was a lot of relevant info – things I would not have thought of myself.

books in library landscape

By now, most of us will know that keywords and good SEO are essential, but likewise you have to ensure the words you select for your link tell the reader what you are going to be linking them through to. On this course I learned a lot more of what’s relevant to proofreaders and copy editors like myself.

1) A traditional book or piece of printed matter is usually read from front to back, chronologically, with little or no skipping about, and absorbed as a whole, not as stand-alone “articles”.

WEB: The average web user views a web page in an F shape – ie they pay the greatest attention to the heading, and then to the next couple of lines. They scan down the edge of the text to the next sub-heading, but after that, their interest in reading the rest of the page declines quickly

2) When reading a traditional piece of printed matter, to find something specific, we have to check the contents page or index, and even search through the paragraphs on the page.

WEB: The web is “non-linear” – meaning that people don’t necessarily arrive by the home page, but may reach the information they want via other links – even links from totally different types of site. Which is very good reason for ensuring your links all work correctly. By typing a simple search term, we can arrive quickly at almost exactly the topic we want, very quickly.

3) A book is easy to follow, (chapter 2 follows chapter 1) and we eventually come to “The End”.

WEB: With the web, people need “signposting” – make sure the text you highlight to create a URL says something clear about where it’s going to take you; “click here” or “more” isn’t very useful – it’s really easy to leave a web page if it’s not made simple for them. For example: Read more about the Society for Editors & Proofreaders here.

4) A magazine can lay around the house for some time, reminding you to read it, and you usually do when it’s a recent copy. A much loved book can rest peacefully on a shelf until such time as someone else wants to borrow it.

WEB: When a magazine goes on-line, it may well lose many loyal readers as they can’t be bothered to log on to the website. They might download it, but may never actually give it more than a cursory glance. When a publication is read online, it rarely gets the attention it deserves, many people admit they actually prefer to print out and read a paper copy.

5) Printed copy is there to be appreciated at leisure – reading a book or travel brochure is often a way of relaxing.

WEB: The typical web user is usually in a hurry and is task oriented – looking for something specific. So in general, if someone is spending a long time on a web page, it may not mean they have found what they are looking for – it may be just the reverse – a link has taken them to the wrong page or didn’t deliver what it promised in the heading or SEO.

So when you are writing for the web, or proofreading or writing copy for a client, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • use as few words as possible and keep sentences short
  • frontload: put important words and information first
  • no more than 2 or 3 sentences per paragraph
  • add short, informative subheadings every 2 or 3 paragraphs
  • 5 – 7 bullet points max!

This article has made me ask myself if the traditional book / magazine / newspaper is a dying breed … what do you think?

  3 comments for “5 reasons why writing for the web is different

  1. Bernice
    November 5, 2015 at 16:26

    A really interesting post especially the comparisons between the printed page and the web. I don’t think magazines and books will die out. I think #5 explains why. If I want information I look on a website. If I want to relax I read a book or a magazine. They have different purposes and outcomes. Long live both formats!

  2. November 5, 2015 at 17:51

    I will admit that I do enjoy both the online format as well as hard copy. I love my kindle… no joke. (Not only can I read any book but I can do FRUIT NINJA!) but I love my hard copies of my favorite authors.

    Great points you brought out!

    • Janice
      November 5, 2015 at 18:13

      I confess to being an audio book lover! Neither print nor web – the laziest format!

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