3 Rules for Writing Easy to Understand Online Content

It is a commonly accepted fact that the average internet reader scans an article/ blog for a few seconds before deciding to continue reading, or clicking the back-button. Therefore,  minimalist impactful writing is a must-have skill for an online content writer .

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.ne

When writing for the internet, less is more!

Unless otherwise asked by your client, the thumb rule of writing for the internet is to write content that is simple, concise, and has coherent paragraphing.

When writing a 400-500 word online article, you must pack in maximum information in the cleanest manner possible.

Here are three ground rules for ensuring that your content catches the reader’s attention.

Rule : I Get straight to the point: 

Credit: Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

photo : Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

  • Write a headline that clearly indicates information contained in the article.
  • Resist the temptation to write a quirky article headline.
  • Use the first few lines of the article to offer a quick glimpse into the focus of the article.
  • Do not waste time giving a lengthy introduction.
credit: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

photo: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

 

Rule : II Break it down into blocks of information

  • Use article sub-headings to divide your article into neat blocks of information. However, you must also ensure that the each section of the article seamlessly flows into the next.
  • Use bullet points, numbered lists where possible in sharing information with the reader.
  • Write small paragraphs of 2-3 sentences. No paragraph should be more than 4 lines on your MS Word document
  • Write short sentences. If any sentence goes beyond 2 typed lines, cut it down in the editing stage.
  • Write one thought per sentence. 

Rule : III Use everyday words

  • Write words used by your readers in everyday life. Avoid industry jargons and outdated words (e.g. herein, herewith, wherewithal).
  • Writing in active voice will help you express information in as few words, and as directly as possible.
  • Once you have written the article, spend considerable time editing the  ‘fluff’.

The art of writing and the mediums of expression have evolved considerably over the last few centuries.  However, the art of simplicity in writing has remained an essential hallmark of a successful writer. William Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Sir Winston Churchill remarked, “This report by its very length defends itself against the risk of being read”. 

Do you agree that simplicity in expression is the way to go? Or, do you feel that the internet is diluting the English vocabulary?

Share your comments in the box below.

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Ditch the Passive and Write in an ‘Active Voice’ for Engaging Online Content

To be a successful writer it is important to have an understanding of the subject you are writing on, as well as the intended audience. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how you see it), as a digital content writer you are often not given a clear understanding of the target reader.

Unless specifically told to write in a particular manner or for a certain demographic, the important thumb rule to follow in writing digital content is this – KISS or keep it simple silly 🙂 .

This is not to say that you are writing for idiots, far from it. However, the writing must be clear, concise, with judicious use of headers, sub-headers to draw in the ‘cursory reader’ and convince them to spend time reading your material.

In the past I have shared my understanding of writing effective text for email campaigns , internet article headers , and general tips on writing for the web.

One internet-writing tip that runs common regardless of the content you are writing is to use active voice rather than passive voice.

Understanding Active Voice

Here is the simplest explanation of active versus passive voice.

In an active sentence, the ‘subject’ is performing the action, whereas in a passive sentence the ‘recipient of the action’ becomes the subject. Refer these  examples below (with the ‘subject action’ underlined)

passive activeExample 1:

John loves Rita. (Active)

Rita is loved by John. (Passive)

Example 2:

The cat ate the mouse. (Active).

The mouse was eaten by the cat. (Passive)

Example 3:

Her lack of discipline is the main reason for defaulting on the loan. (Active)

The reason she defaulted on the loan was because she was not disciplined. (Passive)

Why write in active voice

Passive sentences require more words to express the same thought, in a somewhat circumambulatory manner.  While that may serve the purpose when writing a novel, drafting a customer service communiqué or a political speech, when writing for the internet the language needs to be a more direct, easy to understand and quick to read.

Research also indicates that in general, people find it easier to read text that is in active rather than passive voice.

MS Word Grammar Check for Passive Sentences

At times, I have struggled with re-wording sentences for an ‘active tone’ than a passive tone. Thank God, for grammar check feature of MS Word; it highlights passive sentences as you write, making it so much easier to correct the copy.

To activate the option of ‘passive sentence check’, click on the Microsoft oval symbol on the top left-hand corner of the word document and select ‘word options’. Then select – proofing > writing style > settings> select all the relevant proofing options, including passive sentences.

For more information, read this extremely helpful article on QuickandDirtyTips.com  .

That is the internet-writing tip of the month folks.

As the winter chills sets in, stay active and write ‘active’!

7 Tips for Writing Compelling Internet Article Headers

The header is the first indication of the content of your internet article. The average visitor will stop for no more than 2-3 seconds before deciding whether they want to read what you have written or should they simply move on to something better.

The article header should be clear enough to summarize the key point of the article while also be engaging/ inviting enough for the reader to want to know more.

article writingTips for Internet Article Headers  (Source: The Yahoo! Style Guide, Chapter 4)

  1. Take into consideration the key message of your article and then summarize it into a crisp header.
  2. Avoid headers that are overly cute or quirky
  3. Choose keywords that must figure in your article header ( For example the name of the company, the place, main event, product, brand name, key description)
  4. Include powerful but accurate verbs in the headline statement
  5. For most headers, the active voice would be better than a passive voice
  6. Headers must express the voice of your website, both in the choice of words and how you display them
  7. Standardise the header capitalization rule across your website. For example, I could go with any of the following 3 header styles –
  • Writing Clear & Compelling Articles for the Internet ( Title case) or
  • Writing clear & compelling articles for the internet ( sentence case) or
  • WRITING CLEAR & COMPELLING ARTICLES FOR THE INTERNET (upper-case)

Quick Tips for Paragraphs and Sentences for the Internet

Keep them brief:  Ideally no more than 25 words a sentence and no more than 2-3 sentences in a paragraph.

Frontload the information: State the most important point of each statement and paragraph upfront.

Use numbered lists when the sequence of events or numbering of the items is important. For example – Steps to follow in the recipe or Top 5 Beach Destinations