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Formatting Content: The Medium
IS the Message

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What you say might be less important than how you say it.

This holds true, in fact, even truer for material that you read on the web.

People read differently on the web than they do in print. To begin, browsers are back lit in contrast to print where the reader must rely on ambient light. Although HD and LED lights on browsers help reduce glare and eye strain, the difference in lighting makes reading web content more difficult.

Online readers scan web pages while those who read print are likely to read an article word by word, top to bottom.

Jakob Nielsen, a recognized expert in web usability, has written several articles on how users read online. The Nielsen group has done eye-tracking studies to show how readers approach web content. One study,the F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content showed as little as two paragraphs are often read before the reader begins to scan the page.

Be pro-active in working to keep your reader's attention.

You don't have a whole lot of time to get your point(s) across unless you are. Considering both Nielsen's results and browser lighting concerns, when you write for your readers you must also style your content for them.

Use headings, bullet points, and highlighted keywords to draw attention to your important points.

  1. Nielsen recommends that you put the meat of your content within the first two paragraphs.
  2. Don't be afraid to use outgoing links. They build credibility and that is important on the web. Print articles generally have a credible publication behind them. Unless you are a recognized expert, the best way to show your credibility is through linking to other sources and citing them.
  3. Speaking of linking, learn to segue your writing. Let the last thought of one paragraph draw the reader to the next paragraph.
  4. Short paragraphs have the benefit of making your writing easier on your reader's eyes.
  5. Stay away from hype and buzz words. Give your audience a taste of something fresh and honest and they will keep coming back for more.

Writing online is a whole different medium than writing for print. It is essential for contemporary writers to understand how people read online. Novels, articles, blog posts — all of today's written media are subject to Internet publication.

No matter what type of writing you do, you must know how to write for your audience. The medium and how you format it IS the message.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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