Writing for a time-starved audience

Introduction

Modern technology and particularly web 2.0 has allowed the dissemination of information to become instantaneous, from breaking news to tabloid media, all can be accessed at the click of a button. The nature of this information however, has changed to accommodate this shift in the way in which we share content. In order to write for online platforms such as twitter, Facebook, or for a blog, writing must be approached differently to traditional print form media.

Backbone

Despite this shift in the length of content, stylistic conventions of formal writing still remain. Prose should still contain a beginning, middle and conclusion, and have a contention framing the piece of writing. Without these, scanners and readers alike will lose interest, and have no incentive to continue to read.

Grab Reader's Attention

Online writings need to capture the attention of readers immediately. Much like the ‘inverted pyramid’ technique used for news journalism, the most important information of the piece should be revealed to readers immediately. If the first paragraph, catchy headline or article teaser does not hook the attention of readers instantly, readers are unlikely to read an entire piece. Mark Nichol suggests, “Most important, keep in mind that visitors may never click over from scanning to reading, so pack as much information as you can into the points of entry.”

Reach Contention Quickly

Not only does the content need to immediately catch audiences, but the contention of the piece must be reached quickly, and with concise language. Rebecca Appleton writes, “Online, sentences should be short and punchy, designed for an audience sitting at a desk, staring at a screen, and scrolling on a mouse.” Time poor readers value short, easy to read sentences that make short, sharp, pithy articles.

These are the most important of the basic techniques needed to write for online audiences successfully.

Blogger Jessica Murphy suggests 9 procedures:

  • Put the most important information first.
  • Use headings and subheadings.
  • Limit each paragraph to three or four sentences.
  • Use a short line length.
  • Write concisely.
  • Make bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Use sufficient contrast.
  • Use sans serif fonts.
  • Avoid italics.