None Shall Pass (it’s a wall of words…)

I was sent a hilarious story today (By PT over at Tales of the Hollow Earth) about what would happen should internet readers be faced with a block of text devoid of any headings, bold text, links or quotes.  The funniest part about it was that it was mostly true even if meant to be in jest…

It’s weird, as part of my job is to write for the web, and to train people in how to do it right, I don’t really think about it. Although, I find myself ‘writing for the web’ in most things I do.

So, do you need to write for the web in an online article (or blog?) There is actually an argument that writing articles online can get away with ignoring writing for the web standards. The idea is that readers are much more likely to engage with the topic and are therefore more interested in finding out what you have to say. Ergo, they’ll persevere through your thick, dense prose. I disagree. Though my style in this blog is probably a tad wordier than I’d use for presenting key information on a website at work, generally, I find myself adding headings and bullet points where I can. I do notice when things are made more difficult for reading on screen, even if I’m really interested in the topic. Tell me why I should read it “Why won’t it tell me what it’s about?” laments one interviewee in the article. “I’ve looked everywhere—there’s nothing here but words.” A key element in writing for the web is writing with your reader in mind. What will they be looking for? What will they want to do? Why have you invited them to your website?


Ahem, sorry – did I make my point?  Let’s start again…  apologies if you did actually read that mass of words.  I bet you started to hate me.  You can scan from now on, I’ll make it easier for you.

Do you need to write for the web in an online article (or blog)?

There is actually an argument that writing articles online can get away with ignoring writing for the web standards. The idea is that readers are much more likely to engage with the topic and are therefore more interested in finding out what you have to say. Ergo, they’ll persevere through your thick, dense prose.

 I disagree. Though my style in this blog is probably a tad wordier than I’d use for presenting key information on a website at work, generally, I find myself adding headings and bullet points where I can.

 I do notice when things are made more difficult for reading on screen, even if I’m really interested in the topic.

 Tell me why I should read it

 “Why won’t it tell me what it’s about?” laments one interviewee in the article. “I’ve looked everywhere—there’s nothing here but words.”

 A key element in writing for the web is writing with your reader in mind. What will they be looking for? What will they want to do? Why have you invited them to your website?

The new stuff starts here – if you did read the long paragraph above

 Keeping in mind the press release mantra of “Who? When? Why? What?” should help you to get across key information upfront. Making sure you front-load this information into the first sentence of the first paragraph also helps to capture interest and entice your reader onwards.

If there were anything worthwhile buried deep in that block of impenetrable English, it would at least have an accompanying photo of a celebrity or a large humorous title containing a pop culture reference.”   Another point from the article.

Make it simple for me to read

Using plain language and explaining jargon (if you can’t avoid it) is essential.

While your main/usual audience might be well-versed in psychology, the web isn’t a private place; Joe Public could just as easy wander by and have a poke around. What if Joe Public is a potential business partner or customer and your words have formed a wall between you and them?

Scannable text

It’s well-known that readers rarely read the web. They scan for key points, they look for links to take them onwards, they scroll quickly and you’ve got to catch their eye.

How do you do this?

Headings and sub-headings are great

Get key words up there. Make sure the headings introduce the paragraphs effectively. Stop your readers in their tracks.

Bullet points also help

Each bullet acts as a virtual stop sign saying “Hey look at me! I’m important”. They:

  • are also short and to the point.
  • are never a full paragraph.
  • are rarely a full sentence.
  • make lists, which are easier to scan.
  • are here.

Hyperlinks highlight words

Hyperlinks bring your page to life. They suggest interactivity and the chance to move on to greater, more interesting things. Like the article I’m on about:  Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text
Sorry I kept you waiting.
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4 thoughts on “None Shall Pass (it’s a wall of words…)

  1. On the subject of bullet points, this conversation came up recently over at our place, and we agreed that bullet points should probably only end in full stops if they're full sentences? One mistake I often see is mixing full sentences and fragments within the same list: everything in a list should be of the same kind. Or is that the IT talking?

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  2. I think closing punctuation of bulleted lists is superfluous, apart from maybe the final full stop. Full stops should only feature within a list if there's more than one sentence to a bullet. Then again, if you're writing that much, should it be in a list at all?

    Like

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