‘Thoughtful, investigative pieces don’t work on the web’

An interesting article on the Guardian’s website today. Aida Edemariam looks at the issue of search on the internet and how this influences online writing in contrast to offline articles.

This, of course, links in to how content for the web must be structured differently in general. Unfortunately, she thinks it makes ‘depressing reading’, interpreting it as meaning that ‘long, thoughtful, investigative pieces don’t work [on the web]’.

‘Write great content’

She quotes Paul Roach, the Guardian’s head of SEO, who says that for successful search results, ‘you just have to write great content’. Good advice. She then refers to the following advice from Jakob Nielsen:

“Stick to simple presentation formats in all ways: a logical progression of the story, mainly active sentences, simple words, short sentences, and a plain, scrolling page. Also, keep people looking down the page by scattering attractive elements throughout the page in the form of subheads and bulleted lists.”

Edemariam concludes that: ‘Short pieces work. Lists work even better. Long, thoughtful, investigative pieces don’t.’

Help your readers, don’t dismiss them

I think this is a misleading opinion. Of course long, thoughtful pieces wouldn’t work online in the same structure as they would in print. But because they need to be presented differently, it doesn’t mean they won’t work at all.

Break the article down into shorter paragraphs and more pages if necessary. Use subheadings to make it easier to navigate and read. It’s hard to read large sections of unbroken text on screen.

It isn’t a bad thing to use simple words where you can. Do you need to use long, difficult words to get your message across, or to justify yourself as a writer? Remember, your article is available to a global audience, many of whom do not have English as a first language. Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.

Use the web to your advantage

Finally, use the internet’s features to present your argument in a more interactive and interesting way. Provide links to useful resources, for example. Help your readers and reinforce your points!

The web offers new opportunities to illustrate your communications in different ways. It’s not an obstacle to intelligent thinking or writing.

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