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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Copy Writing
The transition from print to web

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Msg#: 64 posted 8:21 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

From another thread [webmasterworld.com]:

Seriously, switching from writing for print to writing for the web is always a difficult transition for me. I would welcome any secrets for good web writing!

I've learned so much about this in my own transition I barely know where to start.

It's generally known that reading on screen is slower and less comfortable than reading print. For me, this means that the job of keeping someone reading becomes much bigger. You've got give them a strong "hit" much more frequently. You can't afford to stretch out with long descriptive passages, elaborate sentences with lots of modifying clauses, or dry abstracted copy with no real meat but only corporate style market-speak.

I find that MS Word's grammar check is essential, especially the grade-level it provides at the end. I always aim for below 9th grade.

Here's a top-of-the head list:

Things to use:
1. Short sentences
2. Bullet points
3. VERY frequent subheads (hint - search engines like H tags)
4. Active voice
5. Precise nouns and verbs, instead of adjectives and adverbs
6. Anglo-Saxon roots rather than $10 Latinate words.
7. Redundancy - don't assume that a person reading paragraph 10 has already read paragraph 2. If there's an essential backward reference, spell it out.

Things to avoid:
1. Doubling both the verb and it's object. ("The results demonstrate and prove both the theory and its execution.")

2. Making the reader carry any information in their head from one part of the sentence to another ("Product ABC, from the days of its first release, and through the many years of testing and upgrade, has always been rated number one." -- THAT HURTS!)

I'm going to stop the list for now. One thing I would like to add - write some poetry. Most copy writers who have excelled LOVE words to the point of writing poems for pleasure.

Poetry naturally informs their marketing copy. The lines scan beautifully - when you read them aloud, they sound like natural speech, and even beautiful speech. They give pleasure to the reader. Rather than requiring effort and trying to convince, the copy attracts and entices. On the web, this is essential.

Copy that takes 1 minute to read may require 10 to 100 man-hours to create. But it can work for your website for many years, and repay that investment many times over (cliche! - avoid!). So don't fly solo! Use an editor - and optimally use a team.

How about it? Anyone else have some web copy tips to add?



WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Msg#: 64 posted 8:27 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

Okay, back to the keyboard for me... lots of changes to make...

Good post, Tedster :)


WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Msg#: 64 posted 8:44 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

One of the debates in copy writing is about total copy length. Many people say to keep it short and sweet. But the print world already knows differently - while many people will always abandon your copy early on, you're not writing for every one, you're targeting. Your BEST prospects want to read more - often a lot more.

However, the web is a medium that is not kind to long pages. What can we do?

Make use of hyperlinks - the very technology that spawned the web, it's breath and soul!

So don't throw away all those words from your print copy. Yes, give the casual surfer a nice, quick overview - but use those inline links intelligently. Allow the hot prospect to drill down for everything they want to know and more.

What's an A4 sheet? It's a kind of limitation to the print copy writer. But the TOTAL amount of copy on a website has no restriction at all! And the total amount of copy you can use on a site is nearly infinite - just don't put it all on one page.

When you put this style of hyperlinked copy together with SEO, you can have some real magic. Cut out those two or three paragraphs about widget anomalies and create a small page dedicated to widget anomalies.

When they were buried in your copy along with everything else, "widget anomlaies" was one keyword phrase among many. And those paragraphs probably scared away some readers who don't care about anomalies at all.

But give that copy its own page, with "Widget Anomalies" as the Title, and in the Decription, and in the Head - now we're cooking!

brotherhood of LAN

WebmasterWorld Administrator brotherhood_of_lan us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Msg#: 64 posted 8:50 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

ah i guess my college course is almost as valuable as webmaster world then, because my college course covers this sort of thing.

It hints to avoid using un-necessary words like in "the person was definetely dead". Speaks for itself.

I think it all depends on the site. Someone has suggested to me that there should be more humour used in websites. To be honest, I think the #1 thing you need to go is get your visitor to be on your wavelength (or write on theirs).

ie some posts in here I get great value from. Another one may not be as valuable due to the way its worded, perhaps because the more experienced of us know who we are talking to (ie you understand the predicament of the newbie). Layman's terms is a priority.

I agree with everything you say tedster. This thread will be flagged alongside the other gems ;)

Does the size of the document come into question here? I also remember you talking about splitting pages into columns and monitoring the drop off rate.......be damned if i can find em ;)

IMHO, its also good to check out competitors sites, and look at their pro's and con's. "a picture speaks a 1000 words", but you can use millions of words :)

/added, I wonder if it would be useful for people to measure the "bulk" of text read by an average user, ie how much they can take in, and in what format. No grey areas here, just plenty of colours ;)


WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Msg#: 64 posted 8:54 pm on May 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

1) Track down a copy of "Writing with Precision: How to Write so That You Cannot Possibly Be Misunderstood" by Jefferson D. Bates.

It's by far the most useful writer's manual I've ever encountered.

2) Invest some time reading the wartime speeches of Winston Churchill.


10+ Year Member

Msg#: 64 posted 12:35 am on May 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Redundancy - don't assume that a person reading paragraph 10 has already read paragraph 2. If there's an essential backward reference, spell it out.


Should I elaborate?

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