A while ago I attended a course on ‘writing for the web’ run by a great team of copywriters at Sticky Content. But since then, I’ve read a couple of blogs questioning whether there really is such a thing as ‘writing for the web’ since ‘the web’ consists of many different forms of communication.
Obviously there are special requirements for websites – search engines spring to mind (I’ve done a course on that too). But really, ‘writing for the web’ could be renamed ‘writing for screens’. A lot of the course was about how people read screens and how to write for that.
So apart from the search engine optimisation (SEO) bit, most of the course was about good, informative copywriting in general, i.e. making life as easy as you can for the over-burdoned reader.
On the web, they recommend you write every piece like a news story. That means starting with a summary and then going through the points in order of importance. The reason for this is that people are less likely to get to the end of a piece if they’re reading on a screen so they need to get the whole story quickly.
Well, for anyone who’s been a journalist, or who knows how to write a press release, that’s not really big news. When I first learned to write like this (and I’m really showing my age here) it wasn’t just to help save the reader time, it was because news stories were typeset on long galley proofs and you could cut the story at any point from the end upward to make it fit, and it would still make sense!
The copywriting course also encouraged the use of bullets, short paragraphs, short sentences, etc. People today are inundated with information, don’t have time to get to the end of a piece and are more inclined to skim-read. Well, I can’t argue with research, but wasn’t it ever thus? Even in the days when we were writing for print media, I remember people being too busy to read. Good copywriters have always catered for busy people!
With the exception of SEO, most ‘writing for the web’ is just good copywriting practice.