5 principles of web writing

Online and radio audiences take in our stories in different ways. Because of this, sometimes you will want to “webify” or rewrite a radio piece for the web. We don’t recommend doing this for every radio story. In fact, we often suggest writing a web post first or completely separately.

However, when it does make sense, there are some tips that will make the stories you choose to restructure more readable for your online audience. We’ll walk through these in this post.

First, here are three questions to consider when taking in all of these tips:

  1. Who is your audience? Ask yourself: What do they need and what are they looking for?
  2. What is most relevant? Is everyone already covering this in the same way and can I provide something different?
  3. What is the best use of my time? Does it make sense to webify, write a web-original story or doing something else entirely?

In web writing, get to the point ASAP

Tell the audience what the point of the story is as soon as you can. You’ll almost always rewrite the lede when you’re webifying a radio story. When rewriting, make sure to include a nutgraf (or nutgraph).

Otherwise, as former KPLU online managing editor Martha Kang describes, you’ll lose your audience:

In a Poynter article about the nutgraf, journalist Ken Wells described it in this way:

“… a paragraph that says what this whole story is about and why you should read it. It’s a flag to the reader, high up in the story: You can decide to proceed or not, but if you read no farther, you know what that story’s about.”

Don’t wait to tell us the who, what, where, how and why until the middle of the story — the online audience won’t stick around that long if they don’t know why they’re reading. Sometimes in radio pieces, we leave the best part of the story until the end. Often, you can take that and move it to the top of the web story to make it more captivating to the online readers.

If you’re stuck when you’re trying to think about this concept, think how you would tell your editor or a friend what a story is in one sentence. Use that sentence in your story. This is your pitch to the audience to keep reading.

Grammar and spelling are important

This doesn’t require much explanation. Our public radio audiences can spot grammar and spelling flubs from a mile away. Always make sure to get the names and correct spellings of all people in your stories, even if they don’t appear in your tape. You might use their quotes or photos in your web version of the story.

You can say it better than your source — summarize

Actualities, or quotes, that work well on the radio often don’t transfer well on to the page. Instead, summarize quotes in your own words and use shorter quotes that stand out when you read them. The only reason to see a huge block quote on a page is if there was no way the interviewee could be summarized. That is very rare.

Include more details

We go to great lengths on the radio to not confuse our listeners with too many numbers or details. Since our audiences are using their eyes to take in information, we can go back and add more details and information. This includes adding numbers when appropriate and including links to relevant information. If you reference a story or study, make sure to link to it in the piece.

Here’s Martha Kang on the importance of exact details:

The New York Times’ associate managing editor for standards, Philip Corbett, emphasized the need for links in a post in 2014.

“Online readers today simply expect links and find their absence baffling or worse. Links provide background information, buttress our reporting, point to related material, aid search and help ensure proper credit and attribution. They are easy to include and cost nothing.

They should be as routine in our stories as quotes…”

Headlines matter, a lot

Headlines are the gateway to stories; they go everywhere, from social media to email and our homepages. With a great headline, your story will most definitely reach more eyes and ears. In fact, we recommend brainstorming a headline before you even start writing, and sometimes reporting, a story.

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