Web Communications: Write/Edit FOR the Reader
With few exceptions, online communication must
- clearly focus on the needs and wants of the reader—not the writer
- get to the point fast
- structure text for easy online reading
For example, think of an online housing advertisement. If the ad (which can be viewed from anywhere in the world) describes at length a home’s lovely garden but buries its location (Otttawa, Glebe neighbourhood), basic attributes (fully detached, with 3 bedrooms), and whether it’s for sale or rent (rent—1 year contract), then the writer is not well served. In fact, the reader might simply give up reading OR get rightly miffed about wasting time because of careless writing and editing.
- Think carefully about what the reader really, really needs to know—not what you (as writer or editor) want to say. What key factors are filters for the readers? In other words, what will rule out some possible readers immediately, but hook others?
- Highlight and prioritize. Take a look at what is most important, less important, neutral, and expendable. (If you work on paper, you can highlight important points with yellow, for example, then circle back to mark the top 1-3 points with green.)
- Reorder the points to give the most important points first, then the less important, etc.
- Consider structuring the key 1-3 points as bullet points in a list—or any other structure that will help readers access those points quickly. Yes, easy access can mean fast exit—in other words, some readers will immediately see that the writing is NOT relevant to them—but it also means that you focus on relevant readers as quickly as possible and you do not waste time for either group. For example, if a reader is looking for a house in Vancouver but you’re selling in Ottawa, rule that reader out to save time for both of you.
- Next, consider trimming what is neutral and cutting anything expendable. Online readers tend to skim and tend to impatience. Do not waste their time with flabby text, fluff, or off-target rambles.
- Cut heavy duty sell jobs, overblown prose, ineffectual overuse of key search words, and unnecessary gimmicks. They turn many readers off.
– Go for the facts, appeal to your reader’s needs and wants, and give support. Do you have testimonials from clients? Does your organization have certification that sets you above your competition? Has your product out-performed others in tests? How does price compare? Factual presentation of what sets you apart will make a difference.
– Avoid time-wasters. Triple-check anything that has an impact on load time; for example, do not add in animations because they are cute or they wow your sales team.
For more about writing and editing for the web, here are some sources to check out: