Writing for the Internet: 17 Rules to Keep 'Em Reading Your Content

Feb 12 22:00 2003 Andrea Wilson Print This Article

Have you ever received an email in which the ... has beenlost and all the lines run ... Did you try to decipher it?Not likely. ... ... read with one finger on the delete k

Have you ever received an email in which the formatting has been
lost 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. One
click and your email is gone. Internet users surf the Web with
their finger poised on the mouse button. One click and they’re
gone. As a web site owner or ezine publisher,Guest Posting you must have good
content, but to keep your customers from clicking away or hitting
the delete key, you must strive to make their online reading
experience as easy as possible.

Reading online is about 20% slower than reading from print and a
lot harder on the eyes. And although people browsing the Web are
looking for information, they’re also very impatient. For these
reasons, most visitors to your web site will only scan your
content; they won’t read it.

You probably scan when you read the newspaper so you know what I
mean. You glance at the headlines and from there choose the
article you want to read. This happens on the Web, too, but even
more so. Within an article or web page, people will scan for sub-
headlines. So, whereas they’ll read the whole article in the
newspaper, they’ll only read bits and pieces of it on the Web.

Armed with this knowledge, you can make your content much easier
for 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 or
ezine enhances a reader’s experience.

Here’s a comment from one of my ezine subscribers: "First off, I
really like the ‘Tell-em-what-they're-going-to-get’ approach to
the header of your ezine. Just had to tell you."

He’s talking about my Table of Contents, something so simple, yet
it warranted a comment from a reader.

If your article or ezine is in HTML format, use the "named
anchor" tag to make the items in your Table of Contents

Note: Not everyone’s email software renders HTML properly. Always
offer your readers a plain text version of your newsletter. One
day we’ll all use HTML for our ezines, but we’re not quite there
yet. Some autoresponders and email management software will
"sniff out" a recipient’s ability to render HTML and deliver the
appropriate email (for this to work, you have to write two
versions of your newsletter -- one in plain text and one in

2. Break up your page with sub-headlines.

Provide your readers with the ability to scan your page and pick
out the topics that interest them. If you don’t provide sub-
headlines, there’s a very good chance your readers will skip the
page 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 as
readers may think the text is a link. In a text-based ezine, you
should 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 will
make them harder to scan. Most people use shape to help them
recognize words. If you use all capital letters, you

remove this ability and slow the reader down. Remember,
impatience is the norm on the Internet, so try not to put up any
roadblocks to easy reading.

3. Break up passages.

Notice how all my paragraphs are short? No more than a few lines
each? I strive to keep each paragraph to no more than 100 words.
That’s to provide small chunks of information that can be easily

Note: Just because a paragraph is 109 words, doesn’t mean you
have to automatically try to break it into two smaller
paragraphs. Just use common sense and you’ll be fine.

4. Create white space to reduce eye-fatigue.

Breaking up your page into small paragraphs creates plenty of
white space to rest the reader’s eyes. It’s important to minimize
readers’ fatigue so they’ll keep reading. If this article were
written as one long chunk, you wouldn’t 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 of
long, convoluted sentences. Each sentence is fairly short and
therefore easily read at a glance.

You don’t want to tax readers thinking either. Shorter sentences
are easier to understand and digest. If you want people to "get
your message," keep your sentences short.

6. Use short lines of text.

When writing your ezine, use a text editor and set it to put a
hard return after every 65 characters. That will ensure your
ezine articles have short lines that can be read at a glance. I
use TextPad for this (http://www.textpad.com).

When I’m finished writing my ezine content, I cut and paste the
text into my autoresponder and it retains the hard returns. You
can 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 set
your table to 100% width. If you do, it will stretch to fit any
sized browser and your lines of text will end up long and
difficult 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 than
using 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 contrast
between the background colour and the font colour. Purple text on
a red background is unreadable. Any text on a busy background is
difficult to read. If you want a patterned background, that’s
fine, just change the colour of the table cell in which your text
appears to white or a pale solid colour and make your text black
or very dark. Here’s an example: http://www.racing-pigeon-

10. Use plain English.

Most web pages, ezines and ebooks should stay away from academic
writing. If you’re not writing a thesis, don’t write like a
professor. Instead you should be aiming at a grade level of
between 6 and 8. I’m not telling you to dumb down your text, but
to make it clearer, shorter and easier to read.

11. Write in a chatty, conversational style.

Avoid corporate-speak. Corporate-speak is language that speaks to
no one in particular. Instead, visualize one of your readers and
write to that person. If you write to someone you know, your
style will automatically be more casual, friendly and readable.
People will feel you’re speaking directly to them. Yes, your
style might not click with everyone, but better that than
clicking with no one.

12. Use contractions.

To make your writing easier to read, use contractions. "I’ll tell
you more next month" reads easier than "I will tell you more next
month." It’s also less formal. Your ezine or sales copy is not
the place for formal writing. If you currently write for print
publications and want to start writing for the Web, some of the
rules 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 to
read than Times New Roman (serif font). In print, the opposite is
true and this confuses many people who go from writing for print
to writing for the Web.
Use serif fonts for headings, to provide variety. However, do not
use more than two or three fonts altogether. Otherwise, your text
will look amateurish. It will also be hard to read, as your
visitors’ eyes will constantly need to adjust to the changing
Note: Virtually every book you read in print is type-set in a
serif font like Times New Roman...every page, even the chapter
headings. It’s not boring and no one thinks twice about it. In
the same way, you don’t need to use different fonts on every page
of your web site. Just remember, online Verdana is the font of

14. Specify a font in your HTML code.

Remember to specify a font in your HTML code. If you leave the
font at the default, most web browsers will render your text in
Times New Roman. You don’t want this to happen.

It’s a good idea to specify a family of fonts so PC and Mac
browsers can choose their own pre-installed fonts. I use this
family of fonts: "Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif."

Note: As a last resort, if none of the first three fonts are
installed, "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, but
bad spelling and typos are rampant on the Web.

Run your spell-checker, but also eyeball your content several
times. Your spell-checker will not catch typos like "form"
instead of "from." Print out your text and ask someone else to
read it...preferably, someone who can spell.

I'm not just being picky, by the way. Spelling errors and typos
slow a reader down and may even confuse them. You never want to
do that. If the reader loses momentum, you’re dead; they’ll
likely 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 I’m
surprised it hasn’t up and quit. It’s very amateurish to saturate
your text with exclamation marks. It signals HYPE!!!!! And

Prospects will become customers when they trust you. How much
trust do you put in an ad or sales letter that’s full of
exclamation marks? Your readers are just as wary as you.

Note: There is a place for exclamation marks in impassioned
advertising copy. Just don’t over-do it. And never use more than
one exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

17. Remove "that" wherever possible.

Example 1: Call now so you don’t miss our July special.
Example 2: Call now so that you don’t miss our July special.
What’s the difference? You glide right over the words in the
first example, but in the second example, the word "that" halts
you for a split second. And as you know by now, any stumbling
block, no matter how minor, can mean bye-bye reader.

This isn’t all there is to know about writing for the Internet,
of course. But if you follow these simple rules, you’ll go a long
way toward keeping your readers glued to your text. Hopefully,
long enough to entice them to sign up for your newsletter, join
your affiliate program, or buy your product.

Take-Away Tip: Remember, most online readers are actually
scanners. To get scanners to stop long enough to read your
content, you must make your text visually appealing and
effortless to read. Use short, simple sentences, plain English,
contractions, short paragraphs, lots of sub-headlines and a
friendly voice.

Source: Free Guest Posting Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

  Article "tagged" as:

About Article Author

Andrea Wilson
Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson is a writer, web designer and author of the email
newsletter "From Niche to Rich!" You can email Andrea at
andrea@ablewebs.com. Subscribe to her newsletter at
http://www.ablewebs.com/newsletter.htm. Visit Andrea’s web site
at http://www.ablewebs.com.

View More Articles