Writing,for,the,Internet,amp,# DIY Writing for the Internet: 17 Rules to Keep '
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Have you ever received an email in which the formatting has beenlost and all the lines run together? Did you try to decipher it?Not likely. Delete.Email recipients read with one finger on the delete key. Oneclick and your email is gone. Internet users surf the Web withtheir finger poised on the mouse button. One click and theyregone. As a web site owner or ezine publisher, you must have goodcontent, but to keep your customers from clicking away or hittingthe delete key, you must strive to make their online readingexperience as easy as possible.Reading online is about 20% slower than reading from print and alot harder on the eyes. And although people browsing the Web arelooking for information, theyre also very impatient. For thesereasons, most visitors to your web site will only scan yourcontent; they wont read it.You probably scan when you read the newspaper so you know what Imean. You glance at the headlines and from there choose thearticle you want to read. This happens on the Web, too, but evenmore so. Within an article or web page, people will scan for sub-headlines. So, whereas theyll read the whole article in thenewspaper, theyll only read bits and pieces of it on the Web.Armed with this knowledge, you can make your content much easierfor people to read.1. Provide a Table of Contents at the beginning of long pages.Adding a Table of Contents to the beginning of your article orezine enhances a readers experience.Heres a comment from one of my ezine subscribers: "First off, Ireally like the Tell-em-what-they're-going-to-get approach tothe header of your ezine. Just had to tell you."Hes talking about my Table of Contents, something so simple, yetit warranted a comment from a reader.If your article or ezine is in HTML format, use the "namedanchor" tag to make the items in your Table of Contents"clickable."Note: Not everyones email software renders HTML properly. Alwaysoffer your readers a plain text version of your newsletter. Oneday well all use HTML for our ezines, but were not quite thereyet. Some autoresponders and email management software will"sniff out" a recipients ability to render HTML and deliver theappropriate email (for this to work, you have to write twoversions of your newsletter -- one in plain text and one inHTML).2. Break up your page with sub-headlines.Provide your readers with the ability to scan your page and pickout the topics that interest them. If you dont provide sub-headlines, theres a very good chance your readers will skip thepage entirely.On a web page or in an ebook, use a different colour for the sub-headlines or bold them. Use underlines on web pages cautiously asreaders may think the text is a link. In a text-based ezine, youshould indicate sub-headlines with bullets, asterisks, numbers,or arrows (made up of dashes and a right-angle bracket).You can also type headings in all capital letters, but this willmake them harder to scan. Most people use shape to help themrecognize words. If you use all capital letters, youremove this ability and slow the reader down. Remember,impatience is the norm on the Internet, so try not to put up anyroadblocks to easy reading.3. Break up passages.Notice how all my paragraphs are short? No more than a few lineseach? I strive to keep each paragraph to no more than 100 words.Thats to provide small chunks of information that can be easilydigested.Note: Just because a paragraph is 109 words, doesnt mean youhave to automatically try to break it into two smallerparagraphs. Just use common sense and youll be fine.4. Create white space to reduce eye-fatigue.Breaking up your page into small paragraphs creates plenty ofwhite space to rest the readers eyes. Its important to minimizereaders fatigue so theyll keep reading. If this article werewritten as one long chunk, you wouldnt be reading it by now,especially if you were reading it online.5. Use short sentences.As you may also have noticed, this article is not made up oflong, convoluted sentences. Each sentence is fairly short andtherefore easily read at a glance.You dont want to tax readers thinking either. Shorter sentencesare easier to understand and digest. If you want people to "getyour message," keep your sentences short.6. Use short lines of text.When writing your ezine, use a text editor and set it to put ahard return after every 65 characters. That will ensure yourezine articles have short lines that can be read at a glance. Iuse TextPad for this (http://www.textpad.com).When Im finished writing my ezine content, I cut and paste thetext into my autoresponder and it retains the hard returns. Youcan also cut and paste your text into the body of an email.On your web page, use a table to contain your text. Do not setyour table to 100% width. If you do, it will stretch to fit anysized browser and your lines of text will end up long anddifficult to read.7. Use bullets.Bullets are read even by scanners.8. Enclose text in boxes or indent it.If you indent text, put a Horizontal Rule before and after it.This trick makes it look boxed, but is more sophisticated thanusing a table with a border.9. Avoid busy backgrounds on your web page.To make text easy to read, there needs to be plenty of contrastbetween the background colour and the font colour. Purple text ona red background is unreadable. Any text on a busy background isdifficult to read. If you want a patterned background, thatsfine, just change the colour of the table cell in which your textappears to white or a pale solid colour and make your text blackor very dark. Heres an example: http://www.racing-pigeon-fancier.com10. Use plain English.Most web pages, ezines and ebooks should stay away from academicwriting. If youre not writing a thesis, dont write like aprofessor. Instead you should be aiming at a grade level ofbetween 6 and 8. Im not telling you to dumb down your text, butto make it clearer, shorter and easier to read.11. Write in a chatty, conversational style.Avoid corporate-speak. Corporate-speak is language that speaks tono one in particular. Instead, visualize one of your readers andwrite to that person. If you write to someone you know, yourstyle will automatically be more casual, friendly and readable.People will feel youre speaking directly to them. Yes, yourstyle might not click with everyone, but better that thanclicking with no one.12. Use contractions.To make your writing easier to read, use contractions. "Ill tellyou more next month" reads easier than "I will tell you more nextmonth." Its also less formal. Your ezine or sales copy is notthe place for formal writing. If you currently write for printpublications and want to start writing for the Web, some of therules you live by will have to be abandoned.13. Choose a sans serif font for your text.On the Internet, a sans-serif font like Verdana is much easier toread than Times New Roman (serif font). In print, the opposite istrue and this confuses many people who go from writing for printto writing for the Web.Use serif fonts for headings, to provide variety. However, do notuse more than two or three fonts altogether. Otherwise, your textwill look amateurish. It will also be hard to read, as yourvisitors eyes will constantly need to adjust to the changingstyles.Note: Virtually every book you read in print is type-set in aserif font like Times New Roman...every page, even the chapterheadings. Its not boring and no one thinks twice about it. Inthe same way, you dont need to use different fonts on every pageof your web site. Just remember, online Verdana is the font ofchoice.14. Specify a font in your HTML code.Remember to specify a font in your HTML code. If you leave thefont at the default, most web browsers will render your text inTimes New Roman. You dont want this to happen.Its a good idea to specify a family of fonts so PC and Macbrowsers can choose their own pre-installed fonts. I use thisfamily of fonts: "Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif."Note: As a last resort, if none of the first three fonts areinstalled, "sans-serif" tells a browser to use any other sans-serif font it has available.15. Clean up typos and spelling mistakes.I know it sounds obvious to tell you to check your spelling, butbad spelling and typos are rampant on the Web.Run your spell-checker, but also eyeball your content severaltimes. Your spell-checker will not catch typos like "form"instead of "from." Print out your text and ask someone else toread it...preferably, someone who can spell.I'm not just being picky, by the way. Spelling errors and typosslow a reader down and may even confuse them. You never want todo that. If the reader loses momentum, youre dead; theylllikely stop reading and go away.16. Use exclamation marks sparingly!!!!The Internet has spawned a love affair with the exclamation mark.This poor, beleaguered symbol is so overworked on the Web Imsurprised it hasnt up and quit. Its very amateurish to saturateyour text with exclamation marks. It signals HYPE!!!!! Andinsincerity!!!Prospects will become customers when they trust you. How muchtrust do you put in an ad or sales letter thats full ofexclamation marks? Your readers are just as wary as you.Note: There is a place for exclamation marks in impassionedadvertising copy. Just dont over-do it. And never use more thanone exclamation point at the end of a sentence.17. Remove "that" wherever possible.Example 1: Call now so you dont miss our July special.Example 2: Call now so that you dont miss our July special.Whats the difference? You glide right over the words in thefirst example, but in the second example, the word "that" haltsyou for a split second. And as you know by now, any stumblingblock, no matter how minor, can mean bye-bye reader.This isnt all there is to know about writing for the Internet,of course. But if you follow these simple rules, youll go a longway toward keeping your readers glued to your text. Hopefully,long enough to entice them to sign up for your newsletter, joinyour affiliate program, or buy your product.Take-Away Tip: Remember, most online readers are actuallyscanners. To get scanners to stop long enough to read yourcontent, you must make your text visually appealing andeffortless to read. Use short, simple sentences, plain English,contractions, short paragraphs, lots of sub-headlines and afriendly voice.