The biggest mistake copywriters make is they assume the same copy will work online just like it does in print. The default is to work toward efficiency. Write it once and then let design mold it for the desired distribution platform. Only, it's not that simple.
Each platform has characteristics that make it distinct and different from the other.
The copy, then, should adjust and adapt to the native strengths of either print or digital. Keep in mind there are always exceptions to the rule. But you simply can't write for one platform in the same way you write for another.
Here are six ways to improve your digital writing:
Use shorter sentences. Coordinating Conjunctions may have made your middle school English teacher proud, but you're better off breaking a compound sentence into two simple sentences. Your reader will approach reading online differently than in print.
Keep your paragraphs short. Limit the length of your paragraphs to 2-4 sentences max. Long paragraphs may work on paper, but they discourage reading online.
Write plain headlines. Don't be cute or clever. People are scanning while they're driving down the interstate. (Don't lie!) They aren't going to stop to figure out what you meant. If it's not immediately helpful and self-explanatory, they will most likely move on.
Use bullets, numbers, etc. when appropriate. This helps move the reader through your copy. It will also draw the reader's eye to your most salient points.
Write with a bias toward action. Show an unwavering favoritism toward verbs. People are often searching online to solve a problem (e.g. answer a question, learn how to do something, etc.). Only a small percentage of people (like one or two) are searching the depths of the Web for the intrinsic value of learning.
Stick with one key idea. Remember those thesis statements from college? Well, it turns out they actually do have a practical function. Every piece you write online should address, accomplish, be directed at expressing one thing. If you stick with one big idea, you're much more likely to produce something that will prompt action.
What advice would you give to help others improve and adapt their writing for digital platforms?
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