Web vs. Print: 5 Key Writing Differences

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The Internet has revolutionized the way we consume content and key messages. That shouldn’t be a surprise – even my mom gets it despite the fact that she can’t tell the difference between a private message and a status update on her Facebook account.

But many executives and internal copy producers still haven’t wrapped their keyboards around the idea that the Internet has also changed the way we create brand content. Styles of writing that have delivered big wins in the print arena don’t automatically translate into online success and in fact, may be completely inappropriate for web audiences.

Whether you’re writing a contributed article for an online journal or posting to the company blog, there are at least five key differences that need to be incorporated into the content you create for online audiences.

  1. Length. Forget what your English teacher said about a three-sentence minimum for paragraphs. Web audiences prefer short, pithy blocks of text and tend to stay longer on web pages that feature concise, one or two sentence paragraphs.
  2. Links. Links are the citation method of the Information Age. But links are also a way to increase the value of your writing by providing opportunities for readers to access additional information on specific topics or engage more deeply with your brand’s other online assets
  3. Tone. Regardless of whether you’re writing for web or print, the tone of your writing needs to be matched to your audience and the purpose of the piece. For example, an online white paper will likely require a much different tone than an internal company newsletter. But in general, print writing tends to be more rigid than web writing since online readers prefer informal writing styles laced with elements of the writer’s personality.
  4. Composition. Studies have shown that nearly four out of five web readers don’t read web content word-for-word. Instead, they scan the page, culling information from headlines, section breaks and bullet points. As an online content creator, it’s important to use that information to your advantage, composing pieces that feature bulleted lists, sub-headings and other web-specific composition strategies.
  5. SEO. Online writers frequently target SEO at the expense of meaningful, high quality content. Although it’s important to include search engines in your online audience, the Golden Rule of content creation is that search engines and other audiences reward great writing – and that means your online efforts should focus on strong writing first and SEO second.

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