10 Tips for effective digital writing

Writing for digital is a completely different beast to writing for print. It’s important to keep context in mind.

  • Reading on a screen is fatiguing and it’s difficult to follow large blocks of text.
  • People are increasingly likely to be reading on a mobile device with a small viewing space.
  • They are likely to be reading in a low-attention environment – e.g.
    • while commuting
    • watching television
    • eating
    • looking after kids.

This means you don’t have their complete attention.

You need to craft your content to suit these reading conditions. Here are ten top tips for writing effective digital content:

  1. Keep it simple.
    Use plain English, avoid jargon, acronyms, big words. You won’t sound smarter or more credible, you’ll just make your writing hard to read. If your audience has to read a sentence more than once, they won’t be amazed at your cleverness, they will simply bounce.
  2. Be organised
    Providing a clear structure using subheadings and dot points makes it easier for your audience to follow. It also helps your audience to understand the time commitment required to read the article – e.g. “10 tips” is quite different to “50 ways to…”
  3. Keep it short
    Winston Churchill is famously miscredited with words to the effect of, “I wanted to write a short letter but I didn’t have time, so I wrote a long one”. If you want people to read it, keep it short. News style dictates that you should use around 4-6 words for a headline, around 25 words for a sentence and one to two sentences per paragraph.
  4. There, their, they’re…
    Spelling and grammar are critical to communicating credibility. If you want to look smart, proofread and use spellcheck!
  5. What’s your point?
    Don’t “bury the lead”. Put the most important information at the top. Very few people read an article all the way to the end. Ask yourself, “what’s my number one message?” and make sure you’ve included it early.
  6. Keep it legible
    Don’t use quirky fonts that are hard to read or overuse bold and italics in the middle of sentences. Never underline for emphasis – people will think it’s a hyperlink and get confused.
  7. Stay on brand
    Each brand has its own unique personality. Are you aiming for fun and cheerful? Warm and professional? Edgy and quirky? Whatever your tone, make sure your writing maintains that personality so your audience will recognise your tone of voice.
  8. Avoid spam filters
    Audiences and email programs are tuned in to words that scream spam and promotions like “free” and “win”. But avoid using superlatives like “amazing” and breathless, gushy language like, “You won’t believe…” as it will trigger your audience’s scepticism. Try to use language that is motivating or triggers curiosity – particularly when writing email subject lines.
  9. Write for Google search
    What do people type into Google when they’re looking for you? Try to use those words in your copy in a natural way. This will help let Google know your content is helpful for that purpose and it will be more likely to rank well in searches.
  10. Write for everyone
    Accessibility is important, so make sure your content meets requirements for people with low vision and can be read by screen readers. If you are using images, make sure your descriptions are detailed and useful to a person who can’t see. E.g. what’s happening in the image? What colours can you see? What are people doing? Is there any data that should be included in the description?

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