Writing for the web in 300 words

  1. Start straight away. Don’t waste time warming up.
  2. Reduce barriers between your ideas and your audience.
  3. Write clearly. Use readily understandable language. Be unambiguous.
  4. Learn grammar. Forget what teachers said about long words making you look smart. It isn’t true.
  5. Instead use simple words, grammar and sentences. It is harder to go wrong.
  6. Go easy on adjectives and adverbs.
  7. Spellcheck.
  8. Try to imagine your reader – an ordinary bloke or woman. Write for that person.
  9. Use ‘be’ verbs sparingly to make your writing more interesting. Use them even less in headlines.
  10. “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Most people think it was Mark Twain; it was Blaise Pascal, a French Mathematician.
  11. Keep sentences short; up to 20 words. A 15 word sentence limit is better.
  12. Keep paragraphs short; usually one to four sentences. Only use more if you need to.
  13. Use plenty of full stops and line breaks. Use lists and bullet points. Be generous with crossheads (secondary headings).
  14. Highlight keywords with bold or italics.
  15. Writing is story telling.
  16. Summarise your story in the headline.
  17. If you write an introduction use it to tell readers what your story is about. Expand on your ideas in the following paragraphs.
  18. Write so the story can be cut at any point yet readers have the maximum information.
  19. Aim for short and crisp. Online readers tire after 200 words and start dropping out at around 300. Keep most stories below this length although you can write some longer pieces.
  20. You can find longer explanations of all these points elsewhere on this site.

My presentation from WordCampNZ in 300 words.

16 thoughts on “Writing for the web in 300 words

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  4. Nothing new in this, Bill. But there’s nothing new in Aristotle either, and he’s also worth reading (tho he seldom uses fewer than 300 words).

  5. Going to print this one out. I like writing essays or 1000-2000 words but not enough time to polish them up.

    Used to do 700 words for Unlimited & that worked but that was 10+ years ago.

    • Until a few years ago, I would have agreed with you. That’s changed.

      The point isn’t about showing off my literacy, elegance or fluency, it’s about communicating with my audience. Today’s audiences have shorter attention spans and have other things to deal with when they read online. To some extent reading pixels rather than print makes the reader less literate. And modern readers have been trained to read bullet points.

      If bullet points get my message across more efficiently I’ll use them.

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