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5 Differences Between Writing for Online and Print

People do not read how they used to. Thanks to the internet, people encounter so much more content than they once did — articles and informative pieces are available anytime, instantly. This means writing for the web differs greatly from writing for traditional media. Professors now teach writing students how to keep online readers engaged, so someone earning a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies will be well-versed in internet writing. For other writers making the leap from paper to screen, there are several things to keep in mind.

1. Length

The average amount of time an online reader spends reading anything on the internet is two minutes. Printed pieces rarely even reach their main focus in that amount of time. Therefore, online articles tend to be much shorter than their printed counterparts — and that goes for paragraphs, too. Instead of long segments of prose, like you would see in a newspaper or magazine, the paragraphs in online articles should end after a few lines.

2. Reader Attention

Online articles have to fight for a reader’s attention, even though readers generally go to an article or page intentionally. This is because the internet is highly interconnected. Most articles are nested among other links, moving images, flashing ads and other clickable content that is vying for your readers’ valuable attention. So in order to maintain their interest as long as possible, all pertinent information needs to appear as close to the beginning of the piece as possible. Otherwise, a reader may lose patience and navigate away.

3. Links

Print does not have hyperlinks. It may seem silly to point out, but when it comes to citing source materials, print traditionally features a list of works cited near the end, while most online posts contain links throughout so readers can easily click for more information and read the source content. However, that means links can also prevent a reader from reaching the end of an article, a problem print rarely has unless the article is simply poorly written.

4. Search Engine Optimization

Print does not have to deal with search engines. However, if online writers want people to find their articles, then they must lace them with relevant terms that people will use in search engines. When writing for the web, it remains important to craft a well-written, informative piece, but no one will find it if it is not optimized for search engines with key phrases and associated links.

5. Readability

People read electronic media differently than they do print. They scan and search for things that stand out, like bullet points and boldface phrases. Therefore, writers must arrange information so readers can absorb it quickly. Subheadings throughout an article help, as do shorter paragraphs, lists and even links.

Newspapers, magazines and now even books are available as electronic media online. Not every piece needs drastic change for online publication; however, most articles need optimization for readability.

Writing for the web poses unique challenges that print does not, like competing with moving images for reader attention and optimizing content for search engines, but good writers can transition easily between the two media.

Learn more about A-State’s Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies.


Nielsen Norman Group: Writing Style for Print vs. Web

Contently: 6 Ways Writing for Online Is Different Than Print

Walker Sands: Web vs. Print: 5 Key Writing Differences

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