Web Writing vs. Print Writing

by Dan

Writing is a picky mistress. It seems that the transition between writing channels throws many an author off.Some think that “writing is writing no matter the medium, right?” Hardly.There are several key differences between both web and print writing. For example, web readers have much faster and more sporadic eye tracking patterns than print readers do, which requiresa very different writing style. If you’ve always had a one-size-fits-all writing approach and never thought about what specifically makes a web article successful, this is for you.

How the Styles Differ

To understand why the Internet requires one writing style and print requires another, you have to think about the purpose of each kind of content. The purpose of web writing is to engage readers, who are usually already looking for a way to take some kind of action. Print writing is more to entertain a laid-back reader, who is reading for relaxation or pleasure. Print implies settling in; digital implies being poised at the brink of some activity.

print vs web

Neither medium is better at communicating; you simply need to have a clear purpose in mind to know which is the best vehicle for the job. If you’re looking to get your name out right away, the web is a better choice for you. Its content travels faster, in greater quantities, and with less exacting standards than print. Print has more of a sense of permanence. This is why business owners often present digitally any information that is subject to change and communicate more fixed details via brochure or other marketing materials.

How They Complement Each Other

Though different media require different writing techniques, there are some common requirements that define all good writing. Cutting all filler, using the active voice, and ruthlessly checking your grammar are some of these. Other tricks of the trade that apply to both styles include using specific details wherever possible and taking a “story first” approach to draw readers in.

Remember that when you’re writing for the web, you’re often trying to achieve a result or precipitate an action. This is why the majority of today’s content marketing happens online.Good web content writers know that to succeed, they must combine the artfulness and power of the best print writing with a new angle that web surfers will appreciate enough to slow down and read.

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How to Write Specifically for Print

Print writers and publishers are famous for having high standards. You need to be especially aware of theseguidelines if you hope to produce superior, print-worthy writing:

  • Double and triple check your spelling and grammar. You can go back and edit a web page at any time (or ask a webmaster to do it for you), but once the print run has been sent out, that’s it.
  • Write each paragraph as a fully self-contained idea. While you have to break up long paragraphs on the web to make reading easier, print gives you more leeway to flesh out each idea so each paragraph is a satisfying unit in itself.
  • Use numerals most of the time. Traditional writing teachers will tell you to spell out certain numbers, but numerals help text flow easier and draw readers’ attention quickly to the important points. Check AP Style or related guidelines for more details.
  • On that note, be very familiar with the style manual required by the publication you’re writing for.
  • Pick a couple of images to highlight the piece. You don’t need as many images to keep audiences engaged as you’d need for a web article, but visuals are still appreciated.
  • Lead with the most important information if you’re writing a news story or press release. If your content is more creative, experiment with info placement until you have a compelling structure.

If you’re serious about pursuing your print writing, hiring a good beta reader or professional editor is a worthwhile investment to make.

How to Write Specifically for the Web

Using a screen slows reading time to take 25{71b550cbed0aca3fea2335d26076176dc834a5ad6e765af844b2cea64fe7483b} longer than it takes to read print. To make things easier on your audience, you need to get really good at saying only the most important information in as few words as possible. Some other useful tricks include these:

  • Shortening your paragraphs to two or three sentences each.
  • Using sans-serif fonts for body text.
  • Keeping your tone of voice simple and consistent throughout the piece (digital writing doesn’t often leave room for the complex tonal shifts found in print).
  • Linking directly to whatever secondary information you need.
  • Presenting key information as a bulleted list to focus readers’ eyes there.

Your web audience will have a shorter attention span than a print connoisseur would (because of the heightened “ready-for-action” mentality). With this in mind, test your writing by asking yourself if it would still hold your interest and convey all the essential info if you were reading it in a hurry. If you (and any beta readers you enlist) can say yes, you’ve got yourself a good web piece.

What are your tips on writing for online or print audiences? Share them with us below!

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