Writing for Online Readers : Successful Writing

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Writing for Online Readers :

When you write for people who will most likely be reading your text on a screen, your writing needs to be adjusted to their situation in many ways. Reading online is more difficult, both visually and cognitively. So whatever you can do to make the text on the screen more easily accessible to the reader's eyes and brain is probably a good idea. Reading online also takes a little longer than reading on paper and thus people want online documents to be shorter as well.

Here are some tips for adjusting your writing for online readers:

  • Keep the visual appearance of your documents simple. Crowded or jumbled screens drive readers away fast.

  • Where you can, rely more on bulleted or numbered lists than on paragraphs.

  • Make very full use of headings and subheadings and leave enough space around them so that someone scanning your document will see them easily and quickly.

  • Keep your paragraphs short (five lines or so).

  • Make sure you put the main point of every paragraph in the first line (that's all many readers will look at) and that your paragraphs stick really closely to just one idea each.

  • Use fewer words. You do not need to be telegraphic" (omitting a, a, and the). Just be rigorous about cutting the deadwood ones of your prose.

  • Highlight keywords in the text (making it easy for a fast-scanning reader to find the section he or she wants to read more closely). Italics work well on the Web, but boldface or underlining will make readers confuse your highlighted keywords with hypertext link.

  • All of these adaptations apply to email as well, with the addition of a strong emphasis on brevity. No one wants to read a piece of email that runs on for more than the equivalent of about 40 lines (one or two screens on many computers). Further guidelines for email are explained in the rest of this chapter.

    To continue the section on Sending Electronic Communications,

    2. Emails Dos and Don’ts

    3. Handling Casual Correspondence

    4. Handling Professional and Academic Correspondence

    5. Attachments

    Successful Writing Index

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