Some people might think that writing is writing. Those people have very obviously noticed how they behave when reading on the web, as opposed to reading a book. Reading on the internet happens in a very different way to reading in hard-copy, and writing has to change in order to address this difference.
In any piece of writing, the main guiding factor should be the target audience. When talking about writing for the internet, however, certain assumptions are made. Internet users are usually in a hurry, either literally or as part of their disposition. The internet is a medium through which information can be accessed very quickly, and so internet writing needs to present information quickly. This means a number of things for the way in which writing is formed. Internet writing, in contrast to print, is:
1. Shorter and to the point. Web writing is usually shorter in length than print writing. Sentences are also typically shorter.
2. Scannable. Internet users tend to ’scan’ web pages, their eye traveling down the page without really scanning across it. Important information needs to be at the beginning of the headline, the beginning of the paragraph. Information on the left hand side of the page is more likely to be noticed.
3. Image-driven. Web writing needs to be supported with visual elements. This doesn’t just mean photos, although these certainly help attract the attention of the reader. Web writing is usually formatted to contain bold, different-colored or italicized words. These techniques help to draw the reader’s eye to important terms, something that would look over-the-top in print.
4. Purposeful. Although all writing needs a purpose to succeed, web writing is particularly purpose-driven. Part of this has to do with ‘SEO’, or search engine optimization. This is a series of techniques designed to draw search engine attention to particular pages of the internet. When it comes to web writing, SEO usually requires particular keywords to be written into content a certain number of times within a specified space. Most internet writing takes SEO into account today.
The difference between writing for the web and print writing can be best demonstrated in headline writing. A good print headline needs to be catchy, with just a little bit of information about the story. Synonyms can easily be used if the actual point of the story isn’t easy to describe, for example ‘Gang caught in bank bang’ to describe the fatalities by accidental explosion during an attempted robbery. This is catchy, but seen in isolation from the story, as it would appear on the web, it conveys too little information about the event to be useful. It also misses out on keywords associated with the story, such as ‘gang crime,’ ‘crime fatalities’ or even ‘bank robbery’.
Writing for the web is significantly different from print writing, and it takes a little practice to make the change. It can help to read guides on web writing when beginning to write for the web, and of course to read different types of web writing out there.