Let’s face it, good writing is good writing. The Web word for writing may be content, but words are still words. You can get as hip as you want about properly formatted Web content, but if your writing is bad, it’s still bad.
Whether you’re writing a novel, a magazine article, or some punchy Web content, your best writing will come from the heart. Web savvy readers will see through contrived prose and thinly veiled marketing schemes faster than you can say search engine optimization.
On the Web, intelligent readers will be in the front door and out the back in less than four seconds if they sense lack of content, disorganization, poor writing mechanics, or the smell of a scam.
So here’s the deal. The Web is all cool, but when it comes to good writing, tradition still matters. Even though your content will be short, informative, and edgy, you’ll still need the ever important lead, body, and conclusion. We’ll get to the specifics of Web content formatting in a moment, but bear with me, this is important.
First, know your audience. You’re writing for them, not to them. Do your demographic homework and give readers the kind of information they’re looking for. Remember, it’s about them, not you.
Next, do your research. People come to the Web for news, information, and entertainment. Use the best possible sources and know your topic.
Start the writing process with a simple outline. It may look something like this:
Then, write to your outline, but don’t let it dictate the final outcome. Your outline is your guide. Change it if you need to. Bag it and start over if you must. You can adjust it as you go, but don’t fly off the handle and hyperlink all over space. Stay on the good road. Be logical.
Trust the writing process. Write with attitude. Get your ideas down quickly as you follow the outline. Be conversational. Don’t stop to revise or edit. Write a lot. Let it flow. Cut the dribble later.
Write a second draft. Here’s where you look to see if your piece says what you want it to say. Pick up the glaring errors in logic and unity. Cut irrelevance and redundancy without mercy. Revise for clarity. Do a third draft if you need to.
Finally, edit for GUM (grammar, usage, and mechanics). It matters – a lot.
Now let’s talk about the three main parts of your piece (lead, body, and conclusion). In case you’re wondering, I’ll keep it short and to the point.
Leads are often as far as readers get, so make yours count. How many times have you seen the opening of an article followed by a link that says “Read more….”? If your lead isn’t working, that’s where you’ll lose your readers. Hook them hard and early with the central idea of your piece.
You can use at least seven kinds of leads:
The body of your piece needs to be concise (that’s different than brief). Brief may not say enough. Concise tells it all using the least amount of words. Use your body to deliver the information you promised in the lead. Don’t lose your train of thought or you’ll lose your reader. Your readers are there for a purpose. Don’t let them down.
You can use a narrative style or a topical (thematic) approach in the body. A narrative is good for writing about a personal experience or for a personality profile. Use the topical method for just about everything else including: informational, descriptive, or how-to pieces. The topical approach lends itself nicely to secondary topics indicated by sub-heads, bullets, or numbers. More about that in a minute.
By the way, did you notice that I just used a sentence fragment? My grammar checker picked up “More about that in a minute”, but I’m choosing to break the rule in favor of flow. Lots of things are OK on the Internet.
And now, the conclusion. (I did it again). Leave your readers with a strong impression. You’re looking for a powerful feeling that sends them away happy to have read your article. You can use a:
Play on the lead (which is nice, because it closes the circle)
Here are the keys to good Web content formatting:
Use plenty of white space (Be kind to your reader’s eyes)
Chunk your paragraphs into easily digestible portions (Helps readers to grasp your meaning)
Use bullets and numbering for lists (They make things easy)
Avoid excessive linking (It’s annoying)
Think short – 400 to 1400 words (Everybody’s in a hurry)
Readers scan captions and headlines – use them (Think…. Four seconds and woosh…. They’re gone)
Use sidebars and pull quotes to callout your big ideas and dramatic information (They provide focus)
Embed searchable keywords in your title and body (They work)
If you want to learn more about writing good Web content, visit these sites:
There you have it. Know your audience and your topic, use an outline, trust the writing process, and most importantly, write from the heart.