Do you remember when blogging became all the rage a lifetime ago, and we were told that writing for the web is distinctive from writing for print?
Surely by now, writing online and offline isn’t that different?
The distinction is not between writing web or print content but between writing short, informative pieces or using long-form storytelling. Both can be found online.
The distinction is not between writing web or print content but between writing short, informative pieces or using long-form storytelling. Both can be found online. Click To Tweet
We still consume online content differently: We scan and skim more, scroll and skip, are attracted to visual cues and are easily distracted. And when reading a longer piece of writing online, we willingly put more effort into comprehending. We are committed to it.
As writers, we choose to build a long-form narrative that progresses and might reach its stunning conclusion only at the end. We structure longer articles differently. We choose to add details we would skip when writing shorter pieces. We build suspense. And in those instances, we assume the reader is patient and
willing to follow our pace.
That applies to offline and online long-form content.
In recent years, longer articles have become as relevant on the web as shorter pieces, and demand is growing. Long-form has established itself as “quality content” that many readers pay for. In contrast, short-form is increasingly perceived as bland, promotional and quickly forgotten (and may have been written with the help of AI).
That said, content written for the web can be lengthy, but writers should keep the word count reasonable. Sometimes, longer content may be better broken into multiple pages for easier digesting, depending on your audience.
So, good online content doesn’t have to be short. And good offline content doesn’t have to be long.
Here are the main differences between long-form and short-form content:
Spiffy short-form writing (primarily online), under 1,000 words:
- concise, to the point, quickly addressing the main points
- important thoughts upfront
- bullet points and subheads for easier skimming
- primarily written in a conversational, nonlinear, fragmental tone
- grabs readers’ attention fast
- shorter introduction and a clear, concise thesis statement
- easily digestible content: one topic per article
- sharable, quotable and actionable
- highly optimized for search engines (SEO) with keywords
- can be consumed on the go regardless of distractions
- appeals to a broader audience
- short paragraphs
- good for data sharing, charts and summarizing outcomes
Sprawling/long-form writing (offline, but increasingly online):
- detailed, with more background info
- more linear with a conclusion
- “closes a circle” at the end by revisiting a storyline/idea/quote introduced upfront
- optimized for search engines, using long tail (detailed) key phrases
- in-depth, providing comprehensive information and analysis
- requires the readers’ willingness to invest time and attention and to limit distractions
- appeals to specific audiences who are interested in exploring new topics or in delving deeper into subject matters they are familiar with
- good for analyzing topics and trends chronologically
Long-form and short-form content serve different purposes and cater to different reading preferences. As a writer, understanding these nuances allows you to choose the style and format based on the content and your target audience’s needs, whether they’ll read it online or in print.
That means you may write for web users and offline readers a well-researched shorter piece and, at other times, a 20,000-word article that draws both audiences in with its in-depth storytelling. Both articles should grab their attention from the first paragraph, be engaging and be written in your unique voice.
Bottom line: There isn’t a fundamental difference between “writing for the web” and “writing for print”. There is, however, a clear distinction between quality long-form and short-form content. Depending on your goals and target readers and the impact you’re aiming for, you will pick one over the other. The right audience will follow you wherever you publish your content.
To quote Kurt Vonnegut: “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”
That means offline and online.
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