How to Write for the Web

11 strategies to create much better web content.

Introduction

Many of the content creators on Diamond Tree are new to creating digital content, and there are some common mistakes that I see repeated often. Fortunately there are a few strategies that will help you create much better content, and they are easy to learn. 

I'll briefly discuss these strategies and provide some examples where appropriate.

Overview

Start with the mindset: "My goal is to communicate this information as effectively as possible."

Organize and chunk your content (make it easy to scan/skim)
  1. Use headings and subheadings
  2. Use lists
  3. Use callout boxes and summaries
  4. Bold important text within a paragraph
Write clearly
  1. Write short paragraphs
  2. Use simple, straightforward words and sentences
  3. Put the most important information at the start
  4. Avoid jargon and acronyms
Use multimedia/feedback
  1. Use images and diagrams
  2. Use audio and video when appropriate
  3. Engage your readers and gather private feedback

Your mindset

The most important thing to start with is your mindset when you are creating content. You want to empathize with your reader, and understand what their goals are. When it comes to the web, your readers most often want you to express your ideas as clearly and concisely as possible.

When an author writes a non-fiction book, they are often serving goals other than communicating in the most effective way to their readers. A book may convey prestige to the author, or earn them money, but it is often not the best or most concise way to express their ideas.

The fundamental purpose of Diamond Tree is to enable clear, concise, and effective communication. You want to start with the mindset: "My goal is to communicate this information as effectively as possible."

Organize and chunk your content (make it easy to scan/skim)

Your readers are just like you, they are busy and want to consume the information that you are presenting to them as efficiently as they can. Your goal is to help them do that.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to organize and 'chunk' your content so that it can be easily scanned. There are four primary ways to do this:

  1. Headings and subheadings
  2. Numbered and bulleted lists
  3. Callout boxes and summaries
  4. Bold important text within a paragraph

Example: Headings and bulleted list

Notice how easy it is to scan this text. This content uses one of my personal favorite strategies: using lists where the first line acts as a bolded header.

Example: Callout box and summary

Callout boxes can be used to call attention to any type of important information. This is an example of a callout box that is used to provide a summary of the content.

Write clearly

This comes back to your mindset. You are doing your best to serve your reader's goals. You want to communicate clearly and concisely, not show the world how intelligent you are.

  1. Write short paragraphs - Readers on the web have different expectations than people reading essays or books. Keep your paragraphs short. Paragraphs with 1, 2, or 3 sentences are perfectly acceptable.
  2. Use simple, straightforward words and sentences - You do not want to show off your amazing vocabulary, or your ability to construct complex sentences. One shortcut that you can use is to pretend that you are writing in your reader's second language (and if you write in English, you often will be). People reading in their second language often become confused when they encounter complex sentences and uncommon words.
  3. Put the most important information at the start - Write the information that is most important to your readers at the very beginning. The rest of your content should expand on that information and provide details.
  4. Avoid jargon and acronyms - Jargon and acronyms are an easy way to confuse your reader. Avoid them whenever you can, and explain them clearly if you have to use them.

Use multimedia/feedback

Often visuals, audio, or video are the best way to present the information that you want to present. One of biggest benefits of writing on the web is that you can easily include multimedia.

Additionally, the web allows you to directly engage your users and to collect feedback from them. Multimedia and user feedback can be powerful tools when used appropriately.

  1. Use images and diagrams - Images can communicate in a way that text is simply unable to, and diagrams can be a great way to present complex information in a way that is easy to understand.
  2. Use audio and video - If audio or video is the best way to communicate what you want to communicate, then use them.
  3. Engage your readers and gather private feedback - The web allows your readers to not just consume your information, but to engage with it as well. While public feedback like comment sections can be useful at times, private feedback is typically much higher quality.

Example: Diagram

This diagram communicates a lot of information in a clear and concise way.

Example: Audio

Some information is most effectively conveyed in conversations like the one below. Audio is often a very powerful way to communicate and is relatively easy to create.

Is humility the most important of the three virtues?

  • Humility is increasingly valued (0:50)
  • Accurate assessment of self is the foundation across many contexts (1:30)
  • More important than job-specific skills? (5:00)

Example: Reader engagement

There are many ways to engage your reader to transform one-way conversation into a two-way conversation. Here are two examples that are relevant to this content.

Do you have an example of a webpage that has done a particularly good job of communicating information effectively? If so, submit the link to that webpage.

Do you have any feedback about the content of this page? What did you like? How could I improve it?


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