Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing for an Online Audience

by Jessica Murphy, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. intern.

When writing for an online audience, you must meet different needs than you normally would. People read online text 25 percent more slowly than they read text in print. As a result, they become less patient: up to 80 percent of online readers scan the page for what they need instead of actually reading its contents.

You must therefore write even more clearly and persuasively for an online audience. To do so, you can either persuade your readers to read your entire document or - more likely - make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need. The following guidelines will help you achieve your purpose:

1. Put the most important information first. This way, readers can immediately access the information they need.

2. Use headings and subheadings. Headings help the reader scan the document for what they need by identifying topics.

3. Limit each paragraph to three or four sentences. This breaks up large blocks of text, which makes the document look less daunting.

4. Use a short line length. Limiting it to half the width of the screen helps reduce eye movement.

5. Write concisely. Short, simple sentences with concrete nouns and active verbs work well.

6. Make bulleted or numbered lists. Doing so breaks up paragraphs, shortens line length, and highlights important information. Bulleted lists show items of equal importance, while numbered lists show items in descending order of importance or in chronological order.

7. Use sufficient contrast. Make sure your audience can read your document by testing it at Juicy Studio's Luminosity Color Contrast Ratio Analyzer. This site will tell you if your contrast passes or fails a readability test.

8. Use sans serif fonts. Sans serif fonts lack the little feet on each character. Times New Roman is a serif font, while Helvetica is a sans serif font. I wrote this post in Verdana, a sans serif font created specifically for online use.

9. Avoid italics. They are harder to read on a screen than in print.

Online readers need clear, concise information when reading documents on the Internet. These guidelines should help you both meet their needs and achieve your own goals.




References

Oliu, Walter E., Charles T. Brusaw, and Gerald J Alred. Writing That Works: Communicating Effectively on the Job. 9th edition. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2007. 515-528.

Rude, Carolyn D. Technical Editing. 4th edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 119, 399.


(c) 2010, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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