Writing Online: What You Write Vs. How You Write


I don’t know about you guys, but with the explosive growth of the online publishing industry and the constant debate over the authority definitions when it comes to journalists, bloggers or writers, I am often left confused and lost as to 1) what I should be writing 2) how should I be writing about it — be it travel-writing or anything else.

I do believe that RSS has changed the way people read what’s being written, making it important to know how to write for an audience who primarily reads on the internet — irrespective of what you write/blog about.

Although I doubt print media (often referred to these days as “writing on dead trees” haha) will ever be eliminated altogether, the internet is the future and we need to gear ourselves, or atleast educate ourselves, about the audience who uses the internet — not only as their primary source of information, but as their primary source of “recreational-information”.

I often beat myself up about my writing, constantly thinking I don’t have enough vocabulary, I lack in my ability to spin and craft stories, everything I read seems so much better than what I write, etc etc. So, in attempt to clean up my writing I’ve been doing a distance learning course from the London School of Journalism, am trying to read as much as possible, and am planning to do a writing degree at grad school.

So when I came across this article entitled “Why great writing doesn’t matter online” I read it with confusion, curiosity, and to some extent, relief.

Here are some highlights from the piece: [the notes in square brackets are my input].

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-“People don’t read online. Nor do they scan. They extract ideas, resonating with some and disregarding others. They do so at breakneck speed, only slowing down when a particular idea truly warrants it.”

-“Good writing, clever writing, beautiful writing — all of these things are unnecessary in the creation of great web content. In this medium, writing is just a vehicle for entertaining ideas, useful ideas, novel ideas and practical ideas. All great web writing must do is communicate great ideas without getting in their way.” [I did a little jump of glee when I read this bit]

-“Clarity is the only necessary characteristic of good web writing. Humorous pieces and personal stories are the only exceptions: some degree of finesse matters for both, though the ideas behind the writing are still more important than any other factor.”

-“Traditionally ‘good’ writing can sometimes cloud good ideas. It’s why so many journalists make lackluster bloggers. They aren’t aware that their writing is no longer being read. It’s being mined.”

-“…the vast majority of the world’s most successful bloggers fall into this category — their work wouldn’t pass muster in most mainstream publications, and yet they’re probably read by more people (and read more passionately) than all their staff journalists combined.”
[My quest of being a travel-writer/journalist somehow lead be to become a prolific blogger; I have often blamed my imperfect writing-skills on that count. So I don’t know whether I should be thrilled about this point or I should duck under my sofa and stay there].

-“…Shelf The Elements of Style. [Haha] You don’t need it. Your readers aren’t looking for great writing — if they were, they’d look inside a broadsheet newspaper, a well-loved magazine or a Pulitzer Prize Winning novel. They want your best ideas. They want information that means something to them.”

A bit of an eye opener for online writers, eh?
You can read the full piece here.

What I got from it is that as long as you have a good idea and you can express it so it can be understood clearly — nothing else matters. Style is important, but we don’t have to hang ourselves over it. No? What do you think?