As you know, I believe writing for the Web is a heck of a lot different than writing offline copy, whether the offline text be an article, brochure or what have you. Here’s some of Killian’s tips in writing original Web copy or in revising offline copy for your Web or blog site.
Focus on serving your readers
Consider your visitors and how you can serve them. “Serve” is the word, not “tell” or “sell” or “persuade” or even “inform.” If your site can’t help your visitors in some way that they value, your site has no reason to exist.
Scanning and clustering
Net users read and navigate differently on screen than on paper. Studies by useit.com’s Jakob Nielsen and the Poynter Institute suggest that Web surfers tend to ignore graphics, and to scan text for guides to specific information. Surfers are impatient, unwilling to plow through masses of text to find a particular sentence or two. They want it short, obvious, and right now.
Killian explains visitors won’t always read sequentially, adding one idea to the foundation of the previous one. In hypertext, no idea is intrinsically “previous” or “subsequent.” Instead it tends to stand alone in its own chunk of text, related to other chunks only as the visitor chooses to relate it.
The premise of clustering is that we think by free association, not in outline format. Instead of trying to force our thoughts into some kind of coherent sequence, record them as they come to mind. Once they’re on a piece of paper or a computer screen, those ideas suggest still more ideas. When we have a couple of dozen written down, we can start to cluster text by topic or theme.
Keep it as short as possible – cut text
Killian first assigns Webwriting students to write a thousand-word essay with the second assignment to cut that first essay by 50 percent. He suggests writing for net is the same: Write long, throwing in everything we think we need, and then go back through the text and cut without mercy. A hundred-word chunk will be much better at 50 words, or (if that’s too concise) at 80. Even a scrolling text of a thousand words will serve readers better with a hundred surplus words lopped off.
Use multiple headings and subheads
These are the navigation guides that visitors scan for, and they want lots of them. Links should be self-descriptive; even then, an evocative blurb will encourage visitor to jump through to the page. Within a chunk, text can still appear in two or three short paragraphs, at least one of which has a subheads.
Killian reminds us to think about all the application manuals and user’s guides you consulted, only to end up angry and frustrated. You can prevent that reaction in your visitors by putting yourself in their shoes. They want to know: “How can I??” and you need to anticipate that question.
Killian sums it up nicely in saying “Those who really succeed in this medium are not the techno-geeks but the people geeks, those who truly understand why people come to their sites, and give them what they came for.”