Writing for the Web, Part One

Writing for the internet is not exactly the same as producing a pamphlet, brochure, or FAQ sheet; neither is it entirely different.  This week, I’ll be covering some of the basics using a tool I find really helpful, the Writer’s Triangle, which looks something like this:

The Writer's Triangle

The three sides of the triangle are audience, author, and context.  First, get really specific about your audience. I write to Bill (obviously, I’ve changed his name).

Bill is a managing partner at an accounting firm where I used to work.  He makes between $300-$400K a year.  He’s wicked smart, extremely well educated, and very good at his job. He’s married, has two kids, and works far too many hours a week.  Sound familiar?

Bill grew up in a rural area in Pennsylvania, and he still prefers the outdoors to the office.  He’s now based in Northern Virginia, and while he does work with the banks, investment firms, and corporations that his partners specialize in, his accounts also include retailers, manufacturers, and farmers.  He’s very comfortable speaking with these more down-to-earth clients.   But he’s equally comfortable in a business meeting with a IRS representative.

His difficulty comes when he has to write a letter explaining a tax ruling to his non-business clients.  He finds it hard trying to bridge the two worlds, especially in writing.

Also, Bill is responsible for staff development.  And several of his junior and senior accountants are fairly poor writers.  His impulse is to rewrite their work instead of to provide feedback, and he’s not sure how to coach them to become better writers.

Bill is my perfect client.  I can help him.  I have the tools he needs to become a better writer himself and to offer productive feedback that will develop his staff, so I picture him when I write.  You need to develop a similar image of your perfect client and write to that person.

The next platform on the Writer’s Triangle is the author.  Especially if you’re representing a business, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, you need to decide upon a voice that captures your essence and the business’ purpose.

While this is not necessarily your personal personality, it shouldn’t be fake either.  The best description I’ve heard is that this should be you, amped up.  You want to be sincere.  And you need to be amplified so people can hear you because the internet is a sort of stage.  But you can easily go too far and become something you’re not.  Start with your mission statement.  Who are you, and what are you trying to do online?

That brings us to the foundation of the triangle—your purpose.  What are you doing on the internet?  If you’re just here to make money, people will sniff you out and avoid you like the pile of dog pooh in the park.

And if you’re here to provide information, good luck.  In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a little overwhelmed with it right now.  We’ll get back to you as soon as we’ve waded through the rest of the pile.

Your purpose needs to be something a little more substantial than either of those.  Not that you can’t do both along the way—just make it more passionate than that.  Develop a mission statement for your business that is audience-centered and action-focused.  Who do you want to help, and what would you like them to do?

For an example, check out my letter to you, in the upper right hand corner of this site, Because Communication is Key. Happy writing!

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  1. […] the Writer’s Triangle, which we discussed in Part 1, the Writing Cycle still applies when we are writing for the web, although there are subtle […]

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