Becoming an Online Word Compactor

    May 5, 2002

Writing for online publication differs from writing for print. One difference is length; online pieces tend to be less than 1,000 words in length. Long text passages are difficult to read on-screen, so the key to writing successfully online is to become a “word compactor”.

If you follow a few simple rules, you’ll have no problem writing articles that online publishers will love.

1. Use a summary lead and closing. Open with one or two sentences that summarize your position, and close with one or two sentences that reinforce your point, and tie back to your opening somehow.

2. The online audience is so large that you can, and should, pick a very narrowly-focused topic. You don’t want to write about “Grooming Your Dog”; you want to write about “How to Create the Perfect Poodle-tail Pom- Pom”. Once you have a very narrow focus in mind, stick to it religiously. Cut any sentence that doesn’t directly relate to that focus.

3. Outline first. Then arrange your topics in a logical order. This reduces the need for transition sentences.

4. Limit examples and anecdotes to one per topic.

5. Compress fluff. Don’t use “in the not-too-distant future” when “soon” will work.

6. If your topic contains do’s and don’t’s, leave out one or the other. Instead of “rather than doing ‘X’, it is better to do ‘Y'”, simply write “Do ‘Y'”.

7. Make friends with your dictionary and thesaurus. Replace adjectives and adverbs with active verbs and nouns. “Very, very large” might become “gargantuan”, and “ran at top speed” might become “sprinted”.

They’re not revolutionary, but these simple rules can help you craft an informative, yet compact article for online publications that will have e-zine and Web site editors e- mailing you to ask when your next piece will be ready.

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