So Tight It Takes Your Breath Away
By C. Hope Clark
A new writer has as much to learn as a seasoned novelist when it comes to writing for the Web. Both writers must learn the style required to grab and clutch the fickleness of Internet surfers hungry for information but lacking in patience to read for long. The online community commands a unique attitude from its writers – an attitude that hammers the point, entertains the reader, and packs gobs of facts into words, bullets and phrases to be absorbed in seconds.
Webmasters can actually measure the stickiness of web writing. The hits tabulated on a website’s page tell the web manager how many people visited the page and even came back for seconds. An article on one page may register twice the hits of that on another page at the same website. The Internet gurus have their methods, and while we do not need to know the details of those tasks, we do need to know how to create web writing that captures attention, holds the reader, and sticks like the tackiest flypaper in the hardware store.
As editor of FundsforWriters.com for six years, I know from trial and error what seems to work and what does not for my readers. And as an Internet writer, I feel I have an understanding of what magnetically draws a reader to the screen and delays clicking a mouse. These are just a few of my lessons learned:
Online, the title often catches the search engines. Your glorious writing has no chance at all if it doesn’t lead with a heady title that screams, “Read me NOW!” At least in a bookstore you have cover art. In a magazine you have the opening lines under the title. But online you frequently have a search engine blurb. Make the title sing loud.
Any writer knows a hook is in order to make a reader glance at more than the first page, the first paragraph, even the first sentence. But the online reader reads faster and expects more initial impact than the novel, magazine or newspaper buyer. Make the first paragraph smack the reader. You do not get a second chance. The Internet is fast, fast, fast. The reader in a bookstore is surrounded by silence and takes time to pick and sort material to purchase. The web reader moves like a runner grabbing a cup of water along the way, and as a writer, you have to put that cup in his hand or miss an opportunity.
English teachers taught us that action verbs make a story. Double that intensity for web writing. The reader’s interest lags quickly, so your sentences have to make a point and end, make another point and end, and so on. Subject and verb are the sentence. Adjectives and adverbs must carry a heavy load to justify their existence online, so using them must mean they are a necessity to get the point across. Otherwise, leave them out. Keep the action alive.
If you can make a list in your web article, do so. Readers adore quick facts. Some surfers seek bullets before reading the opening paragraph. Instant gratification is addictive, and bulleted information lets the reader know the article might be worth pursuing.
Internet sites do not often place pictures with articles. Some do, but bandwidth and the uncertain quality of home computers impede delivery. A magazine may draw the eye with a picture, but words must carry their weight online. Each word must deliver which means tight writing and colorful prose even in journalistic pieces.
By now you feel the agitated fret of a reader with little time and a lot of ground to cover. So getting to the meat of the article is foremost. Make the introduction tight and pointed, and get on with the message. Two sentences is not uncommon.
Information dates as quickly online as ice cream in the sun. Make your facts the most recent and the best available, because the competition is right behind you. Websites scramble for the most up-to-date knowledge, and with real-time availability of news, innovations, and current events, you should not consider, for even a second, offering information with a little dust on it. Be novel, unique, fresh, and crisp. Online publications want wisdom as soon as synapses tell the brain, and news bulletins before Channel 5 can get there.
You published this piece somewhere else about five months ago, so you figure its attention has cooled and a new audience may enjoy the message. An editor (and readers) can search in a second to learn where else you published this information. I once rewrote an article for a new market. The editor emailed me asking was I sure this was an original submission. I assured her it was, but told her I wrote a different piece on a similar subject six months before. She already knew it. While the piece was original, the editor sensed the facts within it might be leftover. So she passed on the query. Keep your articles fresh. Readers feel cheated when they read phrases again in a different publication. You wasted their precious limited online time and get remembered in a negative light.
Online, people like to know who you are and what you represent. Bylines are more prevalent for that very reason. Become good at what you write and keep it defined within parameters. You cannot write about dogs, pilots, medicine, scuba diving, knitting, and earning an MBA and be totally credible. Be good at what you write and known for the messages you deliver.
Compact all you can in those wrap-up words at the end of your piece. List credentials pertinent to the writing, not a resume. And unless it’s important to the audience and related to the subject market, do not tell them about your pets, children, and significant others. When I write pieces on writing, I simply put “C. Hope Clark is editor of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: The Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success.” But if I’m covering business, government, management, or finance, I state, “C. Hope Clark served 25 years with the federal government as an administrative director of personnel and budget, and advisor to a political appointee.” And when I wrote a piece for Landscape Management magazine, I stated, “C. Hope Clark is a fulltime freelance writer with a degree in agronomy and 25 years with the US Dept of Agriculture.” Use whatever part of you works for the message being delivered.
Readers subconsciously self-impose deadlines on themselves in order to cover as much reading as they can in as little time as possible. As a writer, that means name your point, define it, and cover it precisely. Hone that talent, and you’ll enjoy a wealth of opportunity to write for online publications.
C. Hope Clark is a fulltime freelance writer, editor of FundsforWriters.com, and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success.