3/26/09

Writing for the Web: A Lesson in Writing Small

I spotted a James Carville article in the FT.com op/ed (Daddy, tell me, what exactly is a derivative?) this morning that reminded me of how difficult it is to write for the web.

Carville was writing about Obama's "supposed communication breakdown during the financial crisis." Carville says the failure is not in Obama's ability to communicate but in the complexity of what he is trying to explain.

I can definitely relate.

I will never forget what my grizzly, old editor told me when I was interning for a small newspaper in Orange County, "Honey, you gotta write dumber. Most people can't read above a 4th grade level."

Writing dumb may sound easy, but it is not, especially if you are writing about a complex topic.

Granted, in the legal field, I am generally writing to a more sophisticated audience. But I run into another challenge: time.

My readers do not want to pour over paragraphs of analysis. They want to be able to read my story in less than 30 seconds.

So I have to be able to tell my story in a paragraph. And, no, that does not mean a 10-line paragraph. If you look at my writing, most of my paragraphs are only 1-2 sentences long. And my sentences are very short.

Here's another lesson that I learned from another grizzly old guy: look at your sentence and eliminate every fifth word.

Yeah, it is hard to write small. And just like I pointed out in my SEO post: you have 3-4 seconds to get their attention on the web.

So you better engage them fast!

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

In some ways writing for blogs improves one's writing definitely. (I just finished "On Writing" and King's biggest tip was that the second draft must be 10% less bulky than the first. Along the lines of the cut every fifth word tip from your grizzly guy.)

But your post raises another point. Do blogs promote good quality content and true understanding, or are they full of SEO-driven buzzword heavy short posts? Is that what gets the most mileage in the blogosphere?

@VBalasubramani

John C said...

You are so right! In fact, I think there are lessons in legal writing drafting you can take from writing for the web too.

Lisa Salazar said...

@VBalasubramani

I think good blogs promote good content.

Even if you manage to engineer a SEO page, if it isn't engaging it still won't work.

Yes, you do want to be at the top of the lists but if you are writing drivel no one will read it so it will sink back down to the bottom for lack of readership.

I would compare it to the difference between a NY Times bestseller and a classic novel.

Yes, Nora Roberts or James Patterson may top the NY best seller list now but, in the end, it is the less popular but more eruidite novels that will have true longevity and be considered great works.

annie said...

you can always take reference

allan said...
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