How to Write for the New Media

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.

6. SEO

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:

  1. Format your post titles to include the most well-known keywords for your article’s subject.
  2. Write your post to include a few repetitions of various keywords pertinent to your article (don’t oversaturate).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

7. K.I.S.S.

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.

Final Word

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?

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21 thoughts on “How to Write for the New Media

  1. Susan Cartier Liebel

    This is an excellent piece. There are so many schools of thought on writing for your blog that I find most people vary their style, see what gets conversation going, what gets virally spread and more but no one size fits all.

    Writing for a blog is a skill set one develops over time if the blogger takes the time to figure out where they are succeeding with their readers and where they are falling flat on their face.

    Some trial and error…

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  3. Max Forlani

    Nice overview. I’m just a bit puzzled with point 6.4: I set my sitemap not to include archives or tags, but only the posts and pages. I was told this served the same purpose, not having search engines come across duplicate content.

    Am I wrong here or does this do the trick as well, without having to implement this ‘only excerpts’ option?

    Max Forlanis last blog post..Important Message For New Visitors

  4. thePuck

    Yeah, that will do the same thing, or at least most people agree that it will. We all think nofollow works, but who knows? None of the search engines will tell us exactly what they want. I just make sure I don’t even create any duplicate content in site, period. Don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in nofollow, but I also like to be sure.

  5. Suzy :)

    I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing skills…being the amateur that I am. Little by little I’m finding my “voice” and tackling various topics. One way to find out if you’ve caught the “blogging bug”…is when you realize you enjoy writing even if you hardly get any responses. 😀

    Good tips!

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  8. dkemper

    This is the second time I am visiting and reading this post. Plenty of helpful and useful material that both newbies and seasoned pros in the blogosphere should read.

  9. Melayu Boleh

    Nice overview. I'm just a bit puzzled with point 6.4: I set my sitemap not to include archives or tags, but only the posts and pages. I was told this served the same purpose, not having search engines come across duplicate content.

  10. Neal "thePuck" Jansons

    I would agree, although a good tagging strategy can lead to a nice semantic
    indexing through a lot of other, newer search sites. The reason why I would
    not say to exclude it from indexing is that it gives landing pages. Say
    someone does a long tail search for seven keywords…if you have the perfect
    lineup of tags on a category page you will rank highly for that search, but
    not if your category page isn't indexed. Tag pages also allow for some
    link-sculpting techniques, but I don't want to go into that as it is
    contentious and becoming more irrelevant all the time. For those reasons I
    would use excerpts but still include those pages in your sitemap.

    Of course, watch your metrics on those pages. If your bounce rate on them is
    high, exclude them. It kind of depends on your audience and subject.

  11. mrazree

    ya its good article.. i will try to follow this tips..
    .-= mrazree´s last blog ..Rahsia solat di awal waktu. =-.

    1. Neal Jansons Post author

      This is actually an old one. Evergreen content FTW. It appears in two college textbooks…I’m pretty proud of that. 🙂 I’m an authority! lol


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