How to write for the Internet

internet questionThe key to good quality writing for the web is content that is short, simple and direct. Chunky paragraphs, convoluted sentences and excess punctuation marks not only stick out – they can damage the integrity of the channel or brand you’re writing for. To avoid the pitfalls of bad web writing, there are a few basic rules to keep in mind.

Keep it brief

Most online readers want to quickly scan through an article for the information they need. They don’t want to plough through long, rambling sentences and huge blocks of text. Limit your word count by trimming your sentences of superfluous words and check that your paragraphs don’t exceed ten lines. Preferences vary between websites but, generally speaking, if a paragraph runs over fifteen lines it can usually be broken up for better readability.

Avoid excess punctuation

Punctuation when sparingly used allows writers to clearly structure their sentences. However, excessive use of it can make your sentences harder to read, losing impact along the way. Try to avoid more advanced punctuation, such as semi-colons, colons and multiple commas, by rewriting your sentences.

E.g. ‘It is really important to keep three things in mind when buying a new car; practicality, affordability, and maintenance.’

Should be: ‘Practicality, affordability and maintenance should be kept in mind when buying a new car.’

Pick your headlines wisely

Your headline should be a short and accurate description of the following content. Writing a clear and concise headline (e.g. ‘How to write for the Internet’ instead of ‘Ten principles of writing good-quality copy for the Internet’) means your article is more likely to crop up at the fore of search engine results. Also, make sure that your headline isn’t too generic or it’ll get lost amongst the rest. A quick Google check to size up your competition beforehand helps.

Refer to any relevant style guidelines

Many websites will have a house style guide (or at least refer to a popular style guide, such as those used by The Economist or The Guardian). These make sure that all written content is consistent across the site, particularly where style, spelling, punctuation and format are concerned. Following a style guide while writing ensures consistency and therefore maintains the site’s credibility.

Your first paragraph is key

When it comes to attracting an online audience first impressions count; readers will often assess whether or not to read an article based on the first paragraph. To keep your audience hooked, make sure your opening paragraph is unusual, attention grabbing and/or punctuated with keywords or phrases (i.e. if you’re writing an article about ‘extreme winter sports’ make sure you repeat this two to three times).

Use sub-headings to break up your article

Sub-headings help to break text up into easy-to-digest chunks, while giving the reader both a sense of aesthetic order and narrative structure. They also act as handy signposts for the reader, allowing them to quickly pinpoint the information they’re looking for.

Hyperlinks are your friend

Part of the fun of web writing is the level of interactivity that the Internet allows. Hyperlinks can be used to put any obscure references in your article into context. They can also be used to link to other media (e.g. images, videos and previously written articles) and direct traffic towards other areas of the website you’re writing for.

Make sure your writing is of high quality, relevant and interesting

Producing great-quality content should be the first rule of web writing; even so, there are plenty of examples where key words and phrases are crowbarred into an article for the sake of search engine optimisation. Yet even if a site’s content is perfectly optimised, if it isn’t relevant to the reader or engaging in style the likelihood of it attracting repeat visitors is slim.


Alexandra SzydlowskaAlexandra Szydlowska is a freelance writer and journalist, currently based in London. She is keen on roaming the world while writing about travel, culture, food and women’s issues. She sometimes struggles to stay chained to her desk.