8 things to keep in mind when writing for the web

When you’re writing a piece for the web, here are a few points to keep in mind:

Get to the point quickly

Think about the people who will read your blog posts. They’re looking at it on their desktop or mobile device. They’re coming from social media or search. They’re also scanning through a lot of information at a fast pace. So you want to get to the point right away. Don’t waste any time – tell them what they’re reading and why it’s important. Otherwise they’ll likely move on to something new.

Help readers navigate

Avoid big blocks of text – remember many people will be reading on small mobile screens. Break up the text with web elements that can help tell the story and guide users through it. Use bolded category subheads (like the ones on this page) to introduce a new angle in the story. Also consider other elements you can embed into the post to give it some life – like an embedded tweet, a YouTube video, and images.

Be conversational

There’s a tendency to sound academic or institutional when writing in text form. But the Internet is actually a conversational and informal place. The tone of a blog post doesn’t need to mirror a newspaper article – it should more closely resemble the tone you’d take in a conversation on air. This means you can be transparent about what you’re writing about, what you know, what you don’t know, and if you plan to update the story at a later time. Think of yourself as the host of the blog post and imagine you’re speaking directly to people interested in the story.

Come up with a headline first

Before you begin writing a blog post, brainstorm what the headline might look like. The best way to do this is to open up a blank document and write multiple headline ideas – five or more is ideal and the more the better. The headline should be a specific promise of the story you’re delivering to people when they click. If you can come up with a headline that promises something interesting, then you just have to create a post that delivers on that promise.

Link to other information

Internet users expect links in stories. It’s a basic practice of the web and creates a positive experience for people looking at your stories. So give the audience enough information to understand the story, but use links to send them to learn more about something specific – such as names, places, ongoing stories, and events. This practice allows you to focus solely on the story you’re telling without feeling like you need to include every detail about everything you mention. You can link to past and new NPR stories, as well as external sources from other web sites and news organizations.

Think about the format

What’s the best way to present this story? Ask yourself that before diving in, and ideally during your headline brainstorm. Because 400 words of text is not always going to be the best way. Consider a list or an explainer. Perhaps the story is best told through a few photos or a video.

Focus on the story

When you hit publish on something, it can tend to feel final. Like, the story you’re posting must be a fully formed, polished, 500-word essay. But with the web, it doesn’t have to be that way for everything you create. The first post you write can be the beginning of something that you’ll update later. You can go back and make changes to improve it, add a quote, or update a timeline. If the story is mostly about a photo, it’s okay to show that photo with a few paragraphs and leave it at that – you don’t need to write more than what you’re promising in your headline.

Have fun!

The best blogs are written by people who are enjoying themselves. They care about the topic and are having fun talking about it. So try to have fun with it, especially when you’re covering a light topic. Think of it as a conversation and don’t hesitate to experiment.

Teresa Gorman is a former member of the NPR Training team.