Writers write, and we like to think we do it well. But sometimes what we were taught in writing classes and have learned from reading will mean death in online media. This is because the medium is so vastly different and people have different needs from the new media than they did from the old. Here are some tricks and tips for developing a new media writing style.
1. Go Short
In school and literature, often we are taught that more is better. If you can slip in more detail, another source, or another idea, you should. Well, this is just plain wrong in the new media. Here we have to capture a reader who with the click of a mouse can be somewhere else. They are not a professor paid to read a paper or a book-reader sitting and relaxing in a nook. They are on a computer and working in a very “hot” (interactive) medium. Keep your posts and articles between 400 and 700 words. If you absolutely must go longer, consider splitting the post up into a series. DO NOT go for the “multi-pager”. It does not work, nobody reads it and if you keep trying to write your magnum opus you will lose readers.
2. Avoid Big Blocks of Texts
Break your articles up into multiple paragraphs. What seems like over-formatting in a book or magazine can be perfect for a post because of the difference in how they are read. People’s eyes react differently to text on a screen. Use pictures, changes in font size, and lists to break your content up into meaningful chunks. The goal is that at any point a person could finish up a section in just a few seconds and easily come back for the next chunk later.
3. Avoid the Passive Voice
In school we learn to speak in the passive voice to record facts. This makes things very “objective” and “neutral” sounding, but is not what people are looking for online. There are a billion other things they could be reading that can all be objective, but they will read your work because it is yours. Make your writing drip with active verbs and your own personality. Let your voice come through so strongly that the reader will hear you in their head.
4. Lead the Reader
The formatting of online content is always a problem, but the best thing you can do is let your content guide the reader’s eyes and mind. Use lists, headings, and text styling to lead the reader’s eyes to the important points. This is what is sometimes called the “Command to Look” from a book by the same name.
5. Make Your Content “Hot”
This is the internet, web 2.0 thank you very much, and we want our content to be dynamic. We want links, video, and the ability to converse. Pepper your articles with interactivity, even to the point of asking questions for your readers to answer. If you refer to something, link it (but only the first time!), if you say there was a video, include it in the post.
Ok, get the groan out of your system. I know plenty of the community has a bad opinion of SEO, but I don’t agree with them. Search engine optimization is simply par for the course; you have to deal with it. Some simple tips are:
- Format your post titles to include the most well-known keywords for your article’s subject.
- Write your post to include a few repetitions of various keywords pertinent to your article (don’t oversaturate).
- If you are hosting your own blog, make sure your post titles come first in your page titles. The reason for this is that search engines only show the first part of the title, so if your blog title comes first then, even if you are on the front page, all people will see is the blog title, which makes them unlikely to click.
- Also, if you are hosting your own blog, make sure that you set your title page, archives, and tag pages to show only excerpts of your post contents. Search engines frown heavily on duplicate content.
Keep it simple. No, really. Really simple. Avoid clarifying clauses, complicated thoughts, and involved sentences. This is not say you can’t write difficult ideas…just break them down. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. The reason for this is (again) about how people read on the internet. Since people are always multi-tasking, being able to come back to an article and read it in little chunks without losing the thread of the thought is absolutely necessary.
Following these simple steps you can increase your reader loyalty and the uselfulness of your posts. People will be able to get what they need from your content easily and efficiently, which will make your posts and articles appealing and useful, which means people will come back to read more and pass on your work to other potential readers and clients. Help your readers read and they will stay loyal, make them work too hard and they will just click something else.
Does anyone else have any good writing tips for new media?