How to Write A Web Article Quickly and Easily
© 1999, C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
I've found some general guidelines apply to writing web articles -- the most sought after content. I call them the rules of brevity, information and user-centricity. Using those rules actually makes writing for the Web faster and easier than for print media.
▪ Brevity. Be brief and to the point. Web users are looking for solid, helpful information and/or advice on well targeted topics. Most of what they need to know about the topic can be concisely covered in the web equivalent of two or three printed pages. In fact, much can be covered in just one focused page. To keep the verbage down and interest up, I've designed a template for my word processor allowing only five paragraphs. But with room for reference notes and follow up after the main text.
▪ Information with breakout links to further information. The great thing about writing on the Web is that anything you don't put on any particular page you can put on another and link to it. That means both reader and writer benefit from the ability to tightly focus on significant points and not waste the time of either on undesired details. Yet, all the details can be covered and quickly accessed by link. (The above is much like writing for print media with multiple sidebars, but you don't have to spend any time developing sidebars. Not only do you save that time, but also you can direct your readers to other areas of your site that they may wish to return to visit. Furthermore, your site gives the -- accurate -- appearance of having greater content by having more pages. Would you rather visit a site that offers you 40 pages of focused content or 5 long pages of detail that may or may not be relevant to your search?)
▪ "User Centricity." I designed my template for Web articles around the advice given to speakers and lecturers: Tell 'em what you’re gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, and finally, tell 'em what you told 'em. In terms of Web readers that translates as: 1.) Let them know what’s on the page. They can then decide if that’s what they’re looking for or if they should try elsewhere. If you have a well-designed page, they’ll also be able to determine if they might find what they want elsewhere on your site. 2.) Give them what you promised. 3.) Make sure they know what was important about your article and what to do next.
▪ In designing the article page for maximum reader usability, begin with the proposed title of the page and the proposed title of the article. Those may be different because you design the page title to optimize the page for search engines and yet you want your article title and subtitle to immediately convey the essence of the article as part of helping your readers know they’ve found the right place.
▪ Next, create an introductory paragraph that summarizes what's going to be covered in the article. As in other advice ususally given to speakers, I encourage you to limit your coverage to about three key points. Cover each of the three points in one paragraph each.
▪ Close with a wrap up paragraph including any needed review, call to action or follow-up advice. If you havea connection between your article and something you sell, the wrap up paragraph is the place to make that connection and encourage your reader to consider buying your product or contracting your service. The wrap up paragraph is also a good place to mention other areas of your site your readers might find of interest.
▪ Following the wrap up or conclusionary paragraph, list any references and additional links important to following up on the main material. You may also include charts, tables, examples or illustrative material you've referred to in the main text that are unsuitable for breaking out into full pages of their own.
Remember: include every detail that is relevant and necessary to a focused topic but not one that isn't. A good rule of thumb is that if you've written more than two pages of text, exclusive of your references and links at the bottom of the page, then you've probably got too much. If you only have 1/2 a page, you've probably got too little. ("Page" means the printed equivalent using 12-point Ariel or Helvetica. Don't cheat by just using larger or smaller type to give a deceptive size appearance.)
And, yes, I used the referenced template and guidelines to design this page and write this article. You"ll find a copy of it below if you just click on the link or scroll down. This article you are reading serves as a model for using the template. The part of the template I haven't yet mentioned is the "keywords" entry. Use it to remind yourself of the keywords you should include in the metatags to optimize your page for the search engines. If you don'' manage your own site, just pass on the keywords, that is the words you'd expect your readers to enter in a search engine to find you, to your webmaster. He or she will know what to do with them. If you are your own webmaster: remember to include links to the other important areas of your site at both the tops and bottoms of your pages.
Do I break any of the "rules" above? Frequently. Haven't you read some of the other articles on this site?
References, Links and Examples
Example: The Template.
Quite simply, I recorded the following text as a macro in Word Perfect¨. You can paste it into a macro in your own word processor or paste it into a word processor document that you then save as a template file. Macros are easier for simple stuff like this, but suit yourself. (Does it go without saying that after you've "filled in the blanks" you delete the guideline text?)
Title of Page:
Title of Article:
Notes, Refs, Follow Up: