Adapting print text to the web – original

Too many people use the web like a billboard, pasting up documents designed as print on paper. They think copy and pasting content from a product catalogue or PDF brochure will be just fine online. While a website can possibly serve as an archive for such work, most web surfers aren’t looking for long print documents, and don’t bother to read them.

Usability and eye-tracking results indicate that they prefer to scan a screen of text, looking for keywords and interesting links, and although they didn’t like to scroll in the past, this is less of an issue today. In fact, they scan a page like they scan a sign post driving down a highway, and hardly reading full sentences at all. And if they do, it’s about 30% slower than reading the same content from a brochure.

So a succinct  “chunk” of text is the basic unit of web writing. It wouldn’t be more than 100 words long, and may be much shorter. To turn print text into chunks, it’s a good idea to try to cut by 50 percent. So if your original text was 500 words, you should try to get it down to 250.

Then you should see if you can break it into two or three chunks, each able to stand on its own. What’s more, each chunk should be two or three short sentences. That’s because a solid mass of text is hard to read on screen — especially when people prefer to scan rather than read line by line.

Web writers and editors have four jobs: They have to orient their readers so they can navigate around each page, and around the whole site. They have to supply information that’s easy to find and understand. And they have to enable readers to act on that information — to buy the product, subscribe to a newsletter, email an expert, join the club. Finally, SEO must be applied (that might be five job)?

That’s a tall order, all right. But if web writers/editors can’t fill that order, their readers will soon be confused, or frustrated — and then they’ll be gone to some other site. But simple navigation, useful information, and easy action will make any site worth visiting and revisiting.