When print journalism started to lose market share to the Internet, classically trained journalists weren’t shy about criticizing the quality of the content published there. Content farms outsourced cheap articles that were search optimized, and with Blogspot anyone could become an editor.
As time went by, many print journalists took up blogging and freelancing for digital publications themselves. Even though there still isn’t a significant barrier of entry in place for online publishing, writers that are competing against experienced professionals need to improve their quality and publishing standards to compete with what seems like an endless supply of content creators. If you keep these five simple items in mind as you write for the web it will help you obtain credibility, retain your audience, and show that you care about the writing that you share with others.
1. Cite Your Sources – Give Credit Where Credit is Due
If you think back to the essays and term papers that you wrote in college, or even high school, you were told to cite your sources. Plagiarism was, still is and will always remain a huge taboo. For some reason I do not think that people realize that this applies to the web just like any other place. With so much content and so many people writing on the web these days, it is too simple to just do a copy/paste for relevant information.
Articles written on the web use the same rules when it comes to citing sources and plagiarism. There is nothing wrong with using someone else’s perfectly written content, statement or descriptive language, but you must remember to give the author credit. Many sites that publish articles may have specific ways that they would like their writers to cite their sources. However, if you are writing on your own blog or web site quotes of the cited text and a simple URL in parentheses after that text will suffice. Think of it this way; would you want someone else copying your ideas and using them as if they were their own?
2. Remember Mobile – Readers Do Not Just Use Laptops Anymore
Even after how far we have come in the technology world over the last five years alone, it is still very hard for some companies and people to get used to the mobile age. I honestly view more web sites on my tablet than my laptop. Unfortunately not all blogs, web sites, articles, or images look the same on mobile devices as they do on the web. Although everyone may be used to performing certain actions to make their sites and articles more visually appealing for the web, those same strategies should be applied to mobile web viewing as well – even if they may require some extra effort to implement.
Try to use screen-reader-friendly colors, fonts and sizes for those smaller screens. Try to limit images to only those relevant to your piece. You may be used to displaying limited images due to page load times on computers, but this can be a larger problem when viewing on mobile devices. Previewing before you post and/or reviewing once you have done so on different mobile devices can save your current audience and potential return visitors from leaving your page without reading it.
3. Proofread – This Does Not Mean Simply Running Spell-Check
I am as guilty as anyone of relying on the spell- and grammar-check features, especially if I am in a hurry. However, have the word or grammar suggestions by those tools ever made you scratch your head? For a quick check, try typing “the pit fall of that is less money”. The software checks do not recognize that “pit fall” should actually be “pitfall”.
If you are using words that are not in your everyday vocabulary, double-check that the spelling is correct for those words before actually using them. Then consider adding them to the software’s dictionary to increase efficiency down the road.
Now think about auto-correct for a minute and the problems that you have seen it cause on those funny web sites. If you are considering updating a post or article from a mobile device, I would strongly suggest more diligent proofreading before publishing. I almost called my boss something very bad due to auto-correct. I tried to use the word “duck” when auto-correct kicked in. This tool does not check that a statement makes sense; it is the writer’s responsibility to do that.
Proper verb tense also has many violators. If you begin your piece in the present tense then make sure that you use it throughout. It is very easy to accidentally switch between verb tense during the same piece. If you are telling a story in the past tense, it is fine to use present tense when quoting conversations. But, the basic story should remain in the past tense until the end.
Proofread, proofread, and proofread again! Your own two eyes are the best tools that you own for proofreading.
4. A, B, C – Accurate, Brief, Complete
First, accuracy comes with either knowing what you are writing about or performing the research to back up your statements. If you are stating something as fact, double-check that fact. If you are wrong, your credibility is at risk. It is worth it to take the extra time to check the details of your article, where necessary, than to be later found as writing inaccurate statements.
Next, it does not always take a plethora of words or paragraphs to get your point across. More thoughtful writing that gets to the point quicker will satisfy a reader more. The exception would be if you are writing a fictional story in which case descriptive, longer writing is more accepted. Being brief is preferred when writing on the web due to the shorter attention readers give to their online articles. According to Statistic Brain:
- “Percent of words read on an average (593 words) web page” = 28%
- “Users spend only 4.4 seconds more for each additional 100 words”
Finally, completeness seems as though it should be obvious. However, there are incomplete articles where the thought was there at the beginning and middle, but the conclusion leaves the reader wondering what happened to the final thought. Be sure to finish your ideas and end with a definite conclusion. There is nothing wrong with leaving the reader pondering what you have written if it is an article intended to make them think, but at least finish your argument completely before turning it to the reader to make their own conclusion about what you have written.
5. Multiple Pages – Next, Next, Next, NO
There are obvious reasons for people and companies to carry their articles across multiple pages. For example, ad revenue per page/click means every time a reader clicks ‘next’ to continue reading on the following page, the ads continue to redisplay and thus generate revenue. But, for a normal article carrying it across multiple pages is distracting and can be annoying to the reader. This is especially frustrating if the reader wants to reread a section or look for specific information on a previous page. It can also be especially difficult for those readers using mobile devices. Pages can shift up and down as images are still loading making buttons hard to hit. In addition, the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ buttons are much smaller due to screen size which again, makes them hard to use.
If you have a lengthy article, I would strongly recommend displaying it on one, long page. This allows the reader to move up and down the same page and even search for key terms more easily. Avoid any possible irritants like this as much as possible if you want your audience to return.
By remembering these five tips, in addition to everything else that you have learned about writing, you can accomplish the best possible production of work for the web.