Writing for the Web, Part 2

In the second article of this series, I’d like to talk about that other functional tool for writers, the Writing Cycle:

The Writer's Triangle

Like 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 differences in how we approach the steps than when we are writing for print media.

Let’s start with brainstorming.  The brainstorming process should take into account the elements of the Writer’s Triangle.  But it should also consider the surrounding circle of context.

If you’re writing for a website, the context demands two things—first, that you keep the reader on the website for as long as possible; second, that you give them a reason to return.

Because readers tend to skim the computer screen, you can’t just write more copy and expect them to stay.  You have to provide them with links and activities, like the Yahoo! style guide that I used to research this article, or the comment block below.  The archives and subscription buttons to your right are other ways I use to keep you coming back.

That brings us to arrangement.  Traditionally, this means outlining.  But on the internet, arrangement includes visual layouts.  You should consider where the readers’ eye will be drawn and include appropriate images.  Use headlines that are character- and action- oriented. Add subheadlines and lists where appropriate.  And use links frequently.

While you’re arranging the ideas you’ve brainstormed, you may find that your page is starting to get a little cluttered.  That’s when you need to begin the process of selection.  Start eliminating some unnecessary items.  Bury them in deeper links or sub pages.  If your page is looking a little bare, beef it up.  Research your competition to see what you can add.

Only then can the writing begin.  At this point, you should be able to think about diction.  Consider your word choices carefully.  Stay clear and concise.  Keep your sentences short (a rule I regularly break!) and your paragraphs focused.

Revision and editing on the internet are much like they are in print media.  Set the material aside for a day or two so you can gain some distance.  Look at it from a global perspective, and get feedback from colleagues and peers.

Proofread carefully, out loud.  Use a grammar handbook to referee the tough questions. And select a style guide to remain consistent.  Yahoo! Style is a good place to begin, but if you’re a professional writer you should have a more formal companion like APA, Chicago, CSE, or the GPO.

Finally, be sure to test your links.  And double check your addresses, telephone numbers, and email information.  Remember, the devil is in the details.  And that’s how you can use the Writing Cycle to focus your process and write for the web more effectively!

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