Welcome to another post in the Content Creator Basics series. Here, we’ll share our go-to tips for flexing your freelance writer muscles—whether you’re writing content for someone else or for your own blog. Check in each month for more tips to sharpen your online content writing skills.
Web writing differs from other styles of writing because it is designed to be scanned quickly by Internet users rather than read in depth. The audience for web content is also broader and more global than many other mediums.
Because of these characteristics, web writing needs to be simple, clear, and easy to understand. You can reduce the complexity of your writing by using simple words, cutting unnecessary clauses, and using Global English.
Use Simple Words
Word choice has a large impact on writing complexity. Long words typically found in academic papers can be confusing for web readers since they’re unfamiliar, abstract, and unnecessarily formal.
Effective web writing uses words that are appropriate for a middle-school reading level so that it is understandable for most Internet users. Try to avoid jargon as much as possible; when you use highly specific and complex words in writing meant for a general audience, it excludes some readers from the conversation. Simplifying your word choice doesn’t mean that you are talking down to your audience. Instead, it helps your readers understand your message quickly and clearly.
Instead of using more complex words in your writing, use the simplest synonyms that you can. For example, choose use instead of utilize.
Original: It is necessary to find a location which receives a lot of natural lighting for the proper application of nail polish.
Edited: You should find a well-lit room to apply nail polish.
Limit Clauses and Wordiness in Sentences
Sentences should vary in style and length to make your writing sound natural and interesting. However, the longer a sentence is, the more likely it is to confuse a reader. Sentences can be particularly confusing if they have multiple subordinate clauses and dependent clauses. These extra clauses bury the main topic of the sentence, and readers may take longer to read and understand your point. Consider the following sentences:
Original: After being imprisoned by his relatives, the Dursleys, the summer after his first year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter, the boy who defeated Voldemort both as a baby and while he was eleven, escaped in a flying car with the help of the Weasleys.
Edited: After being imprisoned by the Dursleys, Harry Potter escaped in a flying car with the help of the Weasleys.
The first sentence has multiple clauses that contain unnecessary information and make it hard to understand the point of the sentence. The second sentence eliminates useless information to help readers understand the main point of the sentence.
For the same reason, sentences should not be excessively wordy. Sometimes sentences contain long noun phrases that take up space and make it harder for readers to scan your writing. These phrases can easily be substituted with a single word.
Original: Almost every sentence contains too many words.
Edited: Most sentences contain too many words.
For specific tips on making your web writing less wordy, read this post on cutting out the fluff.
Use Global English
When you write web content, remember that people from all over the world could read it. Many members of your global audience might speak English as a second language. Therefore, keep your writing simple and easy to understand for non-native English speakers.
You can do this by following the practices of web writing discussed above plus the following guidelines.
First, avoid using idioms, regional slang, or culture-specific references unless you are specifically targeting that audience. Jokes that might be funny to English speakers may not be universally funny or easily understood.
Also, remember to keep your language as literal as possible. Metaphors and figurative language may confuse people who don’t speak English as their first language.
Original: Calculus is his hardest subject, but he’s beginning to get the hang of it.
Edited: Calculus is his hardest subject, but he’s beginning to understand it.
Phrasal verbs can also be confusing for non-native English speakers because those verbs can mean multiple things. For example, “She passed out after hiking on a hot day” contains the phrasal verb “pass out.” This means something completely different in the sentence “The teacher passed out copies of the test to the students.” To make the sentence clearer, use a simple verb that conveys the same meaning.
Original: She passed out after hiking on a hot day.
Edited: She fainted after hiking on a hot day.
If you can’t avoid a phrasal verb, make sure that there is enough context in the sentence for the meaning to be clear.
By making your web writing clear and easy to understand, you invite Internet users to read, interact with, and share your content. What techniques have made your writing more clear? Give us some suggestions in the comments.