We will begin this course with by covering some of the basic principles that will guide nearly all of your writing this semester. Most of your writing will be published electronically, rather than in print—and writing for electronic mediums are governed by different rules.
Readers often scan an article before deciding whether to read the article more thoroughly. It is important that you design your articles to grab interest and allow the eye to scan.
- Keep your visitors’ interest by making effective headlines and navigation obvious. Take a look at these good headlines and these not-so-good headlines.
- Attempt to include pictures whenever possible (usually 1 – 4 pictures per article) that will help your readers understand the written content at a higher level. Place the pictures at relevant areas of the article that coincides with the text.
- Put the most important content on your page in the first paragraph, so that readers scanning your pages will not miss your main idea.
- Cover only one topic per paragraph.
- Format the text appropriately, such as bolding and center justify to draw the eye to important points. But don’t overdo it—emphasizing too much dilutes the purpose.
Unlike academic essays, writing for the Internet and mobile devices should be short.
- A page should have at the very least one paragraph of content.
- It is acceptable to have just 1 or 2 sentences per paragraph. At other times perhaps 8 sentence per paragraph is needed. The point: avoid lengthy paragraphs whenever possible.
- Be concise. Remember that your audience is increasingly reading your content on mobile phones. Write short paragraphs and minimize unnecessary words. A length of 300-700 words is reasonable for an average page.
- If you must have more than 700 words, break down the content into sections, leading people to specific portions of the text as much as possible.
Hyperlinks in Your Articles
There is a simple philosophy coined by author Michael Pollan, which can be summed up in a simple mantra: “Useful links. Stable sources. Be transparent.”
Put in only essential links.
- Every link has the potential to go bad over time, which means a “404 page not found” error message will display to your readers. So don’t link too much. Choose your links carefully and strategically.
Ensure that links are clearly visible.
- Don’t create links that use the phrase “click here.” Write the sentence as you normally would, and place the link anchor on the word or words that best describe the additional content you are linking to.
- Avoid single words (“said,” “found,” “reasons”) are too easy to overlook, yet linking entire phrases can be distracting. Link text of two to five words works well. The link color and style should be distinct from unlinked text.
Choose linking text carefully.
- The link text should let users know what they’ll find if they click. Options include nouns with some descriptive information (“2014 Yale study”), a person and an active verb (“Bob Herbert wrote”).
URL stability is essential — except if a story is ephemeral.
- Because of concerns about Wikipedia’s accuracy, editability, reliability and potential for bias, avoid linking to the site at all times.
Verify after publication and check your links regularly.
- Check all your links after you publish. Some content-management systems can manipulate URLs during the production process, and the end results may not work.
- When possible, use an application or service that will identify broken links on your pages. These applications crawl the internet continuously and will notify you via email when it finds a broken link.