Know Your Medium

See also: Common Mistakes in Writing

This page continues from: Know Your Audience which discusses the importance of knowing who you are writing for. It is equally important to consider the medium you are using for your writing.

Traditionally, the written word was read in print form and the author maintained some control over how the reader assimilated material through the order in which it was presented.  However these days, with various media outlets for written materials, writers need to be aware of the medium through which their writing will be broadcast.

Writing for the Web

Most importantly, people do not consume written material on websites in the same way as they do in print.

Research has shown that reading from a computer monitor increases eye strain and fatigue, that reading from a monitor is slower (typically by about 25%) than from print, and that web users often scan centre-left-right rather then left to right as in print.

Web users are mostly content-oriented, in other words they are searching for particular content rather than reading a narrative for pleasure.  Most web users scan documents before deciding whether it is worth their while reading the text and writers therefore need to ensure that their text is written in such a way as to entice the web user to read the content.

There are plenty of guidelines published online about writing for the web.  However, the most important points are:

  • Web content should be shorter than its paper equivalent, perhaps by as much as 50%.

  • Content written for the web should have simpler sentence structures and shorter paragraphs than content written for print.

  • Key words and messages can be highlighted using a bold typeface to ensure they stand out from the narrative text.

  • Long runs of text should be broken up with headings and subheadings since this makes it easier for the reader to find the information they are looking for, and helps them to navigate within the page when they have to scroll down.

Writing for the web should also take into account search engine optimisation (SEO) where appropriate.

Although the above advice focuses on material written for the web, much the same is true for emails which will also be read from a computer monitor.  Emails also tend towards a less formal style than printed letters but unless you are already familiar with the reader, it is safer to assume a formal style for initial communications.