Web writing for dummies, smarties, oldies and newbies

Elizabeth Saloka

Sure, someday you’ll have a free decade or two to tackle the mountain of books out there on web writing. Until then, use this nice, basic list of web writing best practices to tack on your wall:

  • Trim fat. Keep your content short and sweet. (Would say more about this, but, you know.)
  • Stay focused. As you’re writing, stop yourself every once and awhile and revisit your topic sentence. Ask yourself: Is what I’m writing relevant? Delete what’s unnecessary and retool what’s awkward.
  • Don’t exceed 60 words per paragraph. Doing this will make your readers’ eyes want to jump out of their sockets. True story. 
  • Honor thy bulleted lists. Three items? Perhaps you should bullet. Ten items? Definitely bullet. This will help your readers quickly assess, divide, and digest information. 
  • Avoid fantastic, wonderful fluff and cutting-edge, innovative corporate-speak. Readers can smell it a mile away. They don’t like it. It’s just a big, dumb, useless mountain in between the user and what they want.
  • Speak to the audience as ‘you.’ Make them feel special, like you’re speaking directly to them. Remember, conversational. If you went to check into a hotel, a friendly concierge would say “Here’s the key to your room. Hope your stay is pleasant.” A not-as-nice concierge would bark “Here’s the key to the room. Hope the stay is crap.” (The crap bit was for emphasis. But you get the point, right?)
  • Divide and conquer existing content. Sometimes a content expert will give you information for the About Us section that would actually be more useful in the Jobs section. Or, a sentence won’t fit with the rest of a paragraph. Don’t assume the person who put it there was smarter than you. Move it! When reorganizing existing paragraphs or forming new ones, a good rule of thumb is to use the inverted pyramid style.
  • Talk like a human. If you’re writing for an established brand, by all means use their existing tone—if that’s what the client hired you to do. If you’re hired to create a new tone, that’s great. Do that. But in all instances make sure you don’t sacrifice clarity for cleverness. Also, don’t get overly grammatical. Sometimes it’s better to break a few grammar rules than to sound stuffy.
  • Stay grounded. Don’t fall in love with your writing. You’ll lose perspective. And, you’ll probably be less open to constructive client feedback.
  • Stay active. Jog twice a week. Heeeyyyoooo! Seriously, though, use active voice. Say, “She rocked the content.” Not, “The content was rocked by her.” Active voice sounds more conversational and offers less potential for confusion. Make sense? Good!

Want to dig deeper? Check out Kristina’s book recommendations.