Writing for the Web vs. Writing for Print: What You Need to Know - Forum.web.com
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Writing for the Web vs. Writing for Print: What You Need to Know
13 August 2010

Writing for Blogs and WebsitesGreat writing is behind some of the world’s most popular blogs and websites, but that writing style isn’t the same as what you’d see in print. In fact, there are a ton of differences between writing for the printed page and writing for a blog post.

If you’ve spent much of your time writing for print, there are some things you need to know before you start writing for the Web. Let’s look at five of them:

  1. Paragraph Length
    When you were in school, long paragraphs were cool. Actually, they were beyond cool. They were required. Essays with neatly organized topic sentences and that five-paragraph formula were the only way to get the grade. In Web writing, it’s much different.

    Readers on the Internet tend to skim, so they’re not actually paying much attention to your sentence structure and those five neat and tidy paragraphs. They like to read in short, trim paragraphs with sentences that flow.

    If you’re writing for the Web, keep your paragraphs to a maximum of about three sentences, and don’t be afraid to punctuate important ideas on a line of their own.

  2. Structure
    Web writing also has a lot more freedom than print because of structure. Online, you can use lists, bullet points, subheadings, and other devices to break up text, which in turn makes it easier to read. You also have the ability to break up a large topic into smaller posts or multiple articles.

    In print, you have to adhere to the publication’s design, space limits, and style guide, which can limit your ability to use things like lists and bullets. You’re really at the mercy of the space that’s available on the page.

    Plus, breaking up a topic is much harder to do. Print readers look for all of a topic’s information in a given edition or issue. They don’t want to have to buy more editions or read the next issue to get the full story.

  3. Citing and Sources
    Back in the days of research papers, or even newspaper articles, sources were cited and given credit in a somewhat lengthy and (sometimes) complicated process. The Internet now gives you a much easier way to cite your sources and give credit where credit is due.

    Instead of generating a long list of footnotes and citations, just link to the source. This way, your reader can dig deeper into what you’re writing if he or she chooses. Plus, it keeps the writing neat and easy to read. No one likes tripping over citations.

  4. Language
    Print writing tends to keep a stiffer, much more formal language. On the Web, it’s much more conversational and informal. Which is right? Well, it really depends.

    If you’re a newspaper, news blog, or other “impartial” source of information, it’s important to preserve those reporting ethics and styles. By all means, follow the AP Stylebook! However, if you’re writing on behalf of a company, on a blog, or even for yourself, it can pay to be more friendly and conversational in your choice of words.

    Internet readers tend to respond favorably to writing that has personality. In fact, there are tons of research studies, conferences, and blogs dedicated to teaching Web writers how to infuse personality into their words so that they can appeal to a reader’s thoughts, needs, or opinions.

    Choose words and language that are simple and easy to understand. Be concise when you convey your ideas. Make sure your writing stays organized so that the reader stays with you for the entire ride, from headline to call to action.

  5. The Bottom Line
    Keep your writing fun and engaging. Use simple language that everyone can understand. Make your point in trim paragraphs and short but sweet sentences. Play with structure to break up blocks of text so that it’s easy to read. Link to more information. Always infuse personality.

    The key thing to remember in any form of writing: the easier and more fun your text is to read, the more likely someone is to read it.

Do you have any Web writing tips you’d like to share? Please leave me a comment below.

Related articles:
The Ten Commandments of Blogging
10 Tips for Beginner Bloggers

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  1. Thank you Mandy for your tips on writing for the Web as opposed to writing for print. Your tips are so helpful, even for those of us who have not written for print. So many times it is hard enough to think of what and how to write on my blog, and now you have given some great tips that will help many of us bloggers.

    Awesome =-)


  2. Thank you for your feedback, Darcy!

    I’m so glad that this post was helpful for you. 🙂

  3. Thanks! I got many good tips from your article!

  4. Glad to hear it. 🙂

  5. As a Web writer on my own website and as a freelancer, I find my conversational approach works best online.

  6. Conversational approaches often work well in online writing, simply because it’s much easier to read. It just seems to flow well.

    Thanks for the feedback!


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