What is readable content online?
The process of writing is not fun. It takes time and effort to come up with an acceptable piece of writing. Editing, rewording, and reorganization takes hours of work after the initial writing is made. Much writing is cluttered, exaggerated, and unclear (Zinsser, 2006). Inexperienced writers may use big words and fluttery ideas to cast an illusion of superiority and sophistication over the audience (Pinker). Today, people don’t have time, patience, or interest to read material like that.
Online writing today consists of graphics, keywords, subheadings, and hyperlinks to grab attention (Neilson). Readers skim articles to pick out the essential information quickly, and bold text, underlined passages, and pictures emphasize those elements efficiently.
Humans were not born with the instinct to read and write. Over thousands of years, we have evolved our minds to translate symbols into a language we can comprehend (Carr, 2018). That means that the way we read can change quickly.
What is good online writing?
The definition of good and bad writing has rapidly changed due to social media. There are now two labels to writing: online writing or non-online writing (Dunlevie, 2019). When determining the quality of an online article, a reader must look at style, content, and structure.
There are five elements of style to keep in mind. Audience, language, readability, tone, and voice are going to keep your reader engaged (Digital Guides). When writing, it is smart to write for a 9-year-old reading level. By using simple language, you are ensuring that anyone can read your writing. The tone of your peice should be respectful, polite, and sensible toward your audience. Lastly, you should use active voice (subject, verb, object) to provide clarity in your article.
Fluidity, simplicity, consistency, and connection will provide outstanding content to your readers (Vaynerchuk, 2013). When writing, your content should flow, so your words explain everything clearly for the reader. Your sentences should do the thinking for the reader, not the other way around. Online writing should be simple enough where the writer shouldn’t have to make any inferences.
Your overall message should be clear across all platforms. Your words don’t have to be the same for each online platform (blog, Twitter, Facebook), but your main point should stay consistent. Consistancy allows your audience to make connections. For example, use pop culture references to connect with your reader. Without culture, people lose their ability to remain focused on your message.
Since people read so quickly, users are scanning for six structural elements when reading articles: clear outline structure, headings and subheadings, paragraphs, bullet points, hyperlinks, and mobile readability (Digital Guides). Your article should have a clear structure with headings and subheadings that separate each idea. These paragraphs should be short so the reader can quickly move on to the next idea. Bullet points and hyperlinks are also great tools to point out key information quickly and efficiently. These elements allow for a positive reading experience on a smartphone or another mobile device.
Here are two examples of online articles that review that same book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Both of these articles discuss the synopsis, characters, racism, symbols, and tone of the novel is two different ways.
The first article, published by Common Sense Media, is easy to read, clear, and provides quick content for the reader. The post recognizes its audience (parents and educators) and includes clear headings and subheadings. At the top of the review, the author ranks the book on its educational value, positive message, role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking/ drug use. They are ranked 1 to 5, so the reader can quickly identify controversial topics included in the book.
The next section clearly labels the information parents need to know, parent/ child reviews, what the story is all about, and the quality of the overall story. All of these sections are clearly labeled, short, simple, and to the point. The language and tone of the paragraphs are polite and respectful toward eager and concerned parents. The content of the review was subpar, but it is simple and gets the job done.
The second article, written by The Hope Chest Reviews, is long, wordy, and lacks any eye-catching elements. The post does not write for a particular audience and only includes two headings. The review also offers great insight into the book and is a well-written review.
This article would not be considered as good online writing because it lacks the quick and clean style that most readers are looking for. It does not offer any bold text, short paragraphs, keywords, or hyperlinks. The tone and voice of the review are appropriate and well-written. Unfortunately, this review would be passed up by most readers because it is not easy to skim, and it would take too much time and effort to sit down and read the whole thing.
Good to great
There is always room for improvement. Even well-written and dull review can become great with a few structural changes. With a little bit of color and visual elements, readers will be more likely to stay around for your whole article.
“The surest of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows— they can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is clear as day.”Steven Pinker, The Source of Bad Writing
Carr, N. (2018, June 13). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/.
Digital Guides. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://guides.service.gov.au/content-guide/content-structure/.
Digital Guides. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://guides.service.gov.au/content-guide/writing-style/.
Dunlevie, S., Raquel, Julia, Mishra, R., Gan, J., & McDaniel, T. (2019, September 28). 16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout. Which Ones Are You Breaking? Retrieved from https://www.successfulblogging.com/16-rules-of-blog-writing-which-ones-are-you-breaking/.
Konnikova, M. (2017, June 19). Being a Better Online Reader. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/being-a-better-online-reader.
Nielsen, J. (n.d.). How Users Read on the Web. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/.
Pinker, S. (n.d.). The Source of Bad Writing – WSJ – Steven Pinker. Retrieved from https://stevenpinker.com/files/pinker/files/the_source_of_bad_writing_-_wsj_0.pdf.
Strunk, W. (2018). The Elements of Style. Pandora’s Box.
Vaynerchuk, G. (2013). Jab, Jab, Jab, right hook. New York: Harper Collins.
Zinsser, W. K. (2006). On Writing Well: 30th Anniversary Edition. HarperCollins.