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Business Writing Skills II - A Web Writing Primer

Whatever you would write on paper, cut it in half. The web was
designed for quick reading. Studies show that people do not read
long blocks of text while surfing the web; reading from the
screen is often slower than reading on paper. Therefore, be as
brief and to the point as you can be, or risk losing your
readers' attention.

Write for scanning. Since web surfers often skim web copy, avoid
using long blocks of text. Use lots of white space, bulleted and
numbered lists, and short paragraphs (1 or 2 sentence paragraphs
are not out of the question).

Also, begin with a short conclusion. This way, the reader will
know right away if your topic is one s/he is interested in.

Keep your copy simple. No need for elevated language on the web.
Once, I read that you should pretend you're writing a TV
commercial: Keep your copy short and succinct.

Write conversationally. Think of your readers as individual
people rather than as a faceless "audience." Reading your piece
out loud easily tests this. Or, have a friend read it to you. If
it doesn't flow smoothly, it is time to rework your copy.

Use nested headings. In addition to using short paragraphs,
break up your copy into two or three levels of headlines and sub
heads. This way, the reader can more easily scan to a topic she
is interested in.

Use emphasis and hypertext. If using long text where appropriate
(say, in an in- depth article or report), it helps to break up
your text into several pages connected by links.

The beauty of the web is that your interested readers will
follow you to the detailed information if they want; otherwise,
they can scan the general information that is nicely laid out on
the first page of your article.

Remember to use bold and italics to emphasize important pieces
of information. Avoid underlining, though, so your readers don't
confuse underlined words with linked text.

Use the inverted pyramid. Journalists have long been aware of
the need to catch readers' attention immediately. Like newspaper
readers, web surfers are also pressed for time and want to get
the story right away.

The first paragraph should contain the most important
information and tell what the rest of the site/page/story is
about. That way, readers can scan the beginning to get the gist
of the story.

Start with a short conclusion; gradually get into the full story
and provide more details below or on another page.

Proofread. There is no better way to make your company look
incompetent than to have mistakes all over your site. I've seen
it over and over and over again. Proof read time and time again,
and then let someone else take a look at it too. Your
spell-checker is not enough! It helps to print out all the pages
and edit the hard copy, since reading off the screen is tedious.

Don't be afraid to be entertaining. Fortunately, we've gotten
smarter over the last several years since plopping your company
brochure onto the screen went out of style. Nowadays, web
surfers want to be entertained. Use humor. Use personality. Use
a conversational style. The web is no place for flat, boring,
unenergetic cure-for-insomnia stuff. Be enthusiastic about your
product -- if you're into it, your customers will be, too!
Confidence shows!

About the Author

Linda Elizabeth Alexander is a business writer and marketing
consultant based in Longmont, Colorado, USA. Improve your
writing skills at work! Subscribe to her FREE ezine. Write to
the Point at or visit


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