Reading on screen is completely different from reading words printed in books or newspapers. People do not read in a linear, down-the-page way. They scan to see what grabs their attention. Then they skim the content that specifically interests them. Consequently, it is essential to make what you write easy to scan and effortless to skim. But first, you need people to navigate to what you’ve written.
Here are some top tips for making your online writing effective:
1 Invest time in creating a good title
Your title is one of the ways people find your piece. It should also make them want to read on. So it’s well worth investing time to get it right. The pay-off will be not only more readers but also readers who engage fully with what you write.
2 Begin with a summary or taster
People probably will not read your whole piece to track down the nugget of information or advice that interests them. Bear in mind that they are busy people – as busy as you are! Deliver right up front on the promise of your heading, and tell readers what they can expect to discover. That will give them a sense of anticipation.
3 Use headings to guide readers through your message
Not everyone will read everything you have written. People pick and choose and skim. Your task is to direct them to the information most relevant to them personally.
Good headings help them see at a glance where and what that is.
4 Make your writing digestible
A dense mass of printed text online is off-putting. The great advantage of online writing is that it is not just text. You can add images and videos that support or expand your message and add visual excitement and appeal.
And remember too that people have limited time and limited attention spans, so you need to be brief. Being brief means short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.
5 Use everyday words
Your aim is to communicate ideas clearly and quickly; not to impress people with your wonderful command of English. Say that something is unnecessary, rather than superfluous. Call something typical not quintessential. If you need help to find a simpler word, consult an online thesaurus. Remember, some of your readers might not speak English as their first language.
6 Avoid being technical
What does that mean? It means being careful about which words you choose, and using everyday ones. And it means avoiding jargon used by professionals in your field that other people won’t necessarily understand. Here is an example: SEO (search engine optimization). You may know exactly what it means and why it’s important, but will all your readers?
7 Take time to get it right
Don’t publish right away. Creative writers review and revise what they write. So should you. Save your draft, then look at it later, preferably when your mind is at its freshest. (Many people find it helpful to print out their draft and edit it on paper.)
When you review your draft, not only will you spot spelling and grammar mistakes you missed the first time around. You will also see how to express your thoughts more clearly.
8 Add links to deepen your writing
Appropriate links will help you convey your message and help readers understand it fully. Links have all sorts of functions. You can use them to point people to additional resources on your topic. They can link to evidence or examples that support what you are saying. Or they can tell readers where to find an opposite point of view.
You can even use them to direct readers to a clear definition of a term or phrase you are using, to make sure that they understand exactly what you mean.