5 Forceful Writing Habits for Online Content

iStock_000019750987SmallLet’s stop and think a moment about your changing role and responsibility as a corporate or marketing communicator: You’ve evolved from writer to content provider, providing usable chunks of information for an online readership. This may sound less than glamorous, but the fact remains, whether you’re writing a story or blog post for the intranet or online, and whether your readers consume your copy on a computer, iPad or smartphone.

What must you demand of your writing now that it’s consumed online?

1/ Be Considerate: Your readers deal with unprecedented levels of information and email overload. You owe it to them to produce content that’s intuitive and easy to scan and understand. Consider it an act of kindness and sensitivity. This brings us to how you package content, and here we do well to borrow from the field of applied industrial design—from the Bauhaus belief that design should be simple yet expressive, and which so greatly inspired the clean, intuitive and minimalistic product design of Steve Jobs.

2/ Be Simple (really simple):  The information you present online must be unsparingly clear—simple, free of jargon and anything non-essential. Not dumbed down, just streamlined. Ask yourself, “How can I get to the point faster?” “What can I take out to make this more effective?” Don’t review for grammar and spelling only. Add an additional review to eliminate redundancies: Completely eliminate, absolutely essential, foreign imports or free gifts, every single hour (hour is singular, making single redundant), that sort of thing. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication—again, as Steve Jobs used to say, and he was right.

3/ Connect the Dots: Think about the desired business outcome of your communication, not necessarily the communication result. If you’re writing for a leader or manager, walk a mile in her shoes. Close your eyes a minute. Think about her audience and think about the action she wants them to take.

4/ Be Approachable & Engaging: Be playful and irreverent wherever possible and appropriate. Keep your reader’s attention—like it or not, you’re competing for it with scads of infotainment on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Be inventive in your turn of phrase and be sure to look for the story behind the story. The old rules of journalism apply here. Make sure your sentences and paragraphs transition smoothly and logically. Unpack the narrative in a compelling way to engage your readers.

5/ Be Spare: A spare and functional design is paramount, including the strategic use of subheads and chunked content, so your readers can quickly scan to where they want to go if they don’t have time to read the whole article, which is frequently the case. Arrange your online content to be easy on the eye, and make sure your words have room to breathe. Don’t make it an eye chart; use white space strategically.

Thoughts? What’s your experience? Please weigh in below. I’d love to hear from you.

(We’re all the sum of our parts, and Dom would like to thank his friends/colleagues Andy Opila and Tracy Benson for inspiring this post, which was first published in 2012.)


In Category: Executive Communication, Public Relations, Sharepoint, Social Media

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Show 7 Comments
  • Jim Shaffer August 23, 2012, 12:09 pm Link

    I like this and benefited from it. The one thing I see missing in this overall discussion today is the extension of your connect the dots idea. Provide information people can use to change work and results. Results don’t change if work doesn’t change. If you’re improving the right results you’re adding value. If you’re not, you’re not.

  • Dom August 23, 2012, 12:17 pm Link

    Jim: Excellent reminder, and I agree that the information we present must lead to changed work and changing the right results. This is easily overlooked. Thanks so much for weighing in. D

  • Bill Raschen August 24, 2012, 6:10 am Link

    Useful summary of how to write readable web content. It helps if the writer has decent grammar and spelling as well!

  • Dom August 24, 2012, 8:29 am Link

    Ha, ha, I agree Bill. Here’s to decent grammar and spelling! Thanks for sharing.

  • Mitch August 28, 2012, 5:37 pm Link

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… as Steve Jobs used to say” I think you’ll find this is s case of Mr Jobs quoting Leonardo da Vinci.

    Thanks for this very useful article.

  • Dom August 29, 2012, 8:47 am Link

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Mitch.

  • Heather Pommernelle May 26, 2016, 6:13 am Link

    Nice article Dom, and 5 stars on the simplification piece. Streamlining & removing excess words I find results in 30-50% shorter & more impactful pieces. (So no, not sorry about all the the red ink!)