The Internet Writing Survival Guide

You can’t get away from it — like an undead zombie, the Internet is always there, growing stronger with each passing day, claiming the social lives of users around the globe. As a writer, it’s very important for you to understand how to confront this threat and effectively reach your audience.

Their lives depend on it.

Are you prepared?

At first glance, writing online is similar to writing for print publications — the use of the Inverted Pyramid, the general need to write for an eighth-grade reading level. The attempt to be clear and concise.

But there are three qualities of the Internet you should keep in mind:

1. Viewers make instant judgments. If a reader is confronted by a block of text, poor punctuation and spelling, or a page that’s an eye-sore, they will not hang around. The Internet is a visual medium, and appearance is very important. Ease of use and quality are key. Short, easy-to-read paragraphs are a must.

2. There are other options. How many websites exist? How many blogs? In fact, how many people use the Internet? There are so many options for readers, and it’s so easy to click away, they’re only looking for a reason to hate you and your work. They will not hesitate to keep moving if they feel your content is inadequate.

3. The Internet is interactive. Readers expect a certain amount of interactivity, whether it be the ability to leave a comment, contact the author, or click a little “Thumbs Up!” button. Providing methods of communication helps pull your audience in and increases the probability that they’ll return.

Fighting the good fight

Now that you know what we’re up against, it’s time to see what you can do about it. I’ve opened up the arsenal; there are quite a few weapons at your disposal. Take what you need and use them wisely:

Be quick about it! Immediately let the reader know what your article is about. Use great headlines and a strong lead. Make your introduction interesting, but don’t waste too much time. Cut corners if you have to. Convey your message and get the hell out of there!

Organize. Break your posts or articles up into small, easily-digestible pieces. Use headings and short paragraphs, horizontal rules and colors. Don’t agitate your readers with a lack of focus and an unclear hierarchy of information. That will only make them more ravenous. Improve the readability of the page.

Use lists. Lists attract attention and, if written correctly, they allow readers to effortlessly scan your content for areas of interest.

Write with a conversational tone. Don’t be too formal, not here. Though this depends more on your audience, you’ll only benefit from writing as you speak.

Become one of them. Think about the blogs and websites you enjoy and why you enjoy them. Be a reader, and try to view your work through their eyes.

Plan ahead. Writing in advance, instead of in a hurried mess, allows you to think about your article, revise, and create something of higher quality.

Provide links. Where can you send your readers to find more information? Giving them links to other resources adds quality and substance to your writing, and also puts your topic into context.

Write consistently. If you’re a blogger, you’ll need to keep a steady pace. It’s not so much about frequency — it’s about creating quality content at a constant rate, even if that means just one article a week. Don’t leave your readers guessing.

Wear appropriate body armor. Many readers have succumb to the Internet terror, no longer human beings but creatures of the night, ready to lash out at the first sign of civil debate. Beware these visitors and their hurtful comments. But don’t take it personally; they were like you once.

The Aftermath

This is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. But I have one final word of advice for you: in order to survive out here on the Internet, you have to want it. If you don’t have a passion for writing, if you don’t enjoy working with the Internet and all these new communications technologies, you won’t last long.

Sad but true.