Article writing tips, techniques, strategies

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Battling Internet ADHD: Ten Tips for Writers

Write for a reason

Get to the point. One of the basic references for Web design is Steve Krug's, Don't Make Me Think. My book for Web writers (not yet available in stores) will be called, Don't Make Me Yawn. The Great Democracy that is the Web has spawned far more spam and yammer than thoughtful prose. Don't fall in love with your own voice. Make sure every word supports the message.

Write for "scanners"

The five-second rule applies, only make it shorter. Visitors look at a Web page, then they read it. Think of your page as the cover of a magazine. A visitor will first absorb the total picture, then kick into reading mode and skip tra-la from headline to headline until they find, a) what they're looking for, or, b) something better. Don't lose the scanners with deathless prose.

Get engaged

Lively writing will draw visitors to your message. I know you're trying to be precise. I know you're trying to be complete. I know you need to get the whole message across. I know. Believe me. I'm reading it and trying to...zzzz.

Compartmentalize

Give long content a good home. Okay, sometimes content gets long. Sometimes it is supposed to be long. Sometimes it even has to be long. Understood. When that is the case, tease it up front, and put the long content where the long content goes. People who want to read it will follow the trail, and the rest of us will be spared.

Grammar kind of counts

Complete thoughts...less important...key words...phrases. Just kidding, ha ha. The point is, this may not be advertising writing, it may not be headline writing, and it had better not be bad writing. But in most cases it also is not pure narrative. Sentences, loaded with subordinate clauses, clogged with interesting but unnecessary detail, need not begin slowly, gain traction, and rise to a crescendo before a graceful, gradual, inevitable descent to a complete, satisfying end.Just say it, and get out.

Smooth or Extra Chunky

Just enough information makes visitors feel refreshed! Chunk your content into easily digestible portions. My brother-in-law-the-restaurateur talks about "plate coverage," making sure the beans and the catfish and the French fries coexist in harmony and balance. Portion control for your visitors comes from teasers and intro paragraphs and "Learn more…" and "Read article…". Chunking your content gives visitors a taste, rather than a force-feeding.

Tighten it up

When I was in grade school, my newspaper editor father reviewed my papers for me. He never understood why I cried when my three-page report on Chile became a two-paragraph brief under the machete slash of his red pencil. But he was right. I didn't need that word. I didn't need that paragraph. I had said the same thing on the previous page. I did need to revise and rewrite and cut and cut some more. I did, and I still do, and so do you. Writer, edit thyself.

About the Author

David Beveridge is the Managing Director of Brook Group, a Web site design firm near Washington, DC. More articles by this author can be found at Usability and Branding