Good Web Writing is All in the Tone and Context

November 14th, 2007 · No Comments · Category: Blogging · Essentials · Writing

write stuff for the webIt’s a difficult thing to write and non-writers take it for granted that readers don’t want to read bad writing. Bad writing is like bad singing. If you’ve seen the auditions for American Idol, you get my meaning. Anyway, bad writing is especially offensive on the web because the web is meant for readers irregardless of this new dawn of videos, photo galleries and emoticons. Just like the web won’t replace books, no matter what people say (and fear), images won’t replace text as the major form of communication no matter how evocative the image. Not that an emoticon can be that evocative to begin with. And yes, a picture says a thousand words, but the words they say can’t always be left to the imagination of the viewer if you’re trying to get your point across. I’m a big proponent of distinct communication. What I mean by distinct is that no matter the medium and no matter the context, what you’re saying should be evocative of the the tone in which you mean it, and the context in which you put it. Obviously you should write what you mean as clearly as you can, but more than anything, humans being what they are, the way something is said is as important as what’s being said. This may seem like a lot of effort for web content, but to stand out on an Internet with over a 100 million web pages, it warrants a little consideration at least, right?

For your readers to get the most out of your blog articles and your website visitors to take whatever action you want them to take, your writing must make your blog visitors feel like you’re saying something they haven’t heard even if they have heard it a million times. Think of writing as an exercise in perspective. We’ve all had the experience where although you’ve been told something a million times, on the million-and-one time you hear it, you finally get it. Sometimes we say that it’s finally “sunk in”. Perhaps it’s just that the context in which you’ve heard it and the way in which it was said made you really understand something enough to finally take action or finally take it to heart.

For example, I was watching some morning show at the gym this morning. Some shrink was blathering on about how the Holidays are a common catalysts for exes to rehash old mistakes by calling each other for quickies that, as we all know, always become messy. I was thinking, yeah, yeah, I heard this all before. No one’s going to stop screwing their ex on the loneliest days of the year. But then the shrink said something that sort of woke me up. She said that sure the sex would be great for that one or those few moments, but then you’ll have to break up all over again. Sure, you’re revisiting glorious moments, but you’ll have to relive the really bad heartbreaking too. That was a sobering moment even for me and I had no intention of calling any of my exes for Holiday quickies. So, perspective is a sobering and necessary component of good web writing.

The thing about writing well enough for your readers to hang on your every word is that you don’t have to be a great writer. In fact, you can’t all be great writers. Don’t worry about it, don’t mourn it. Get over it. Writing is an art and takes talent and/or skill. Everyone can’t be a great writer just like everyone can’t be special, no matter what your parents’ told you growing up. The key in writing for the web is to be a good communicator. To be a good communicator on the web you need to create content that’s sobering, like I said, and that connects you with the reader. The web is not just technology. The web is interconnectedness on both a technological level and most importantly on a human level. People act online as they do offline. So, just talk like you’re talking to another human but be clearer and more patient. Be conversational in tone, let your own personal “voice” show, limit grammatical errors and misspelling, and don’t get too personal.

One case in point is the HTML Goodies website. This site gives great step by step tutorials on learning HTML, CSS and other web coding. Joe Burns, the main guy who writes the articles has a great way of speaking that’s authoritative, humorous and conversational. You can’t help but feel a hell of a lot less intimidated by learning something as seemingly confusing as HTML, CSS and JavaScript if you’re a novice. Anyway, Burns’ readers (and students) benefit from what he has to say (to teach) because of the content itself. But the content wouldn’t “sell” if it was written poorly. Coding in general, like physics formulas, is gibberish to anyone who hasn’t learned it already. But like Joe Burns’ HTML Goodies and Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe prove, you can make people understand, learn and benefit from complex ideas if you say it within context and in a tone that humanizes the subject for layman’s consumption. This is not to say you should dumb down what you’re saying. Just don’t take for granted that the subject matter you’re well versed in, your readers simply are not. Anyway, if these non-writers can make JavaScript and Quantum theory comprehensible to me (and others), you can write a great blog article or great web copy for your website…don’t you think?