Writing is writing, right? Wrong. Writing for the web includes much more than just plain old writing. Think of all the different types of words we see in a day. With each different type of writing, expectations change. You wouldn’t anticipate the same information presented in a website as you would a billboard. Although I recognize the difference in information presentation, I never really thought about the different styles of writing that accompany medium. Each must be tackled from a different angle.
Magazines – When I sit down to read a magazine, I’m usually doing so on a weekend during some spare time. I like a combination of quick, easy-to-read blocks of information with an occasional essay here and there for interest. I like the completeness of finishing an entire magazine in about an hour. Anything longer and I will probably move on to something else.
Websites – A good majority of my time I spent on the internet is done so with intent to find information. If I’m looking for something, I want to find it quickly. If I am not on my way to clearly finding what I need within about 5 seconds of entering a website, I will just find another one that is quicker. I don’t have time to search for information when I can just as easily find it somewhere else. I want bold headlines with short informational bits to guide me through each page.
Brochures – In looking at a brochure, I want fast information in small, easy to read sections, similar to websites. I read brochures the same as reading websites, usually with the intent to find information. If I want a large section of body copy on a certain subject, I’ll just purchase a book.
Billboards – A billboard better be bold, humorous or poignant, or most people will fly by at 40 mph without so much as a second glance. If a car needs to slow down or almost crash to read the billboard, it’s not getting the job done. The information should be easy to read and pretty large. Where is the next Arby’s? Exit 34A on the left. That’s the most important information.
Books – When I curl up on my chair or in bed with a good book, I don’t want to see big headlines or small blocks of text throughout the book. I expect to see a nice line of text that continues from page to page, just as my imagination continues along with the novel. It should feel stable and not rushed. I’m usually not reading for immediate information, but to unwind. Time is much less of an issue when reading a good book.
While each set of wording may have different presentation and information expectations, there are some elements that never change: punctuation and grammar. Yes, I am one of those nerds that pays attention to grammar in all forms of writing. If your new sign has a word misspelled, I will notice it. If you post a grammatically incorrect status update on Facebook, I will notice it. If your company has a lighted sign with a letter burnt out, I will point and laugh. And I will probably tell all my friends and we’ll have a good laugh at your expense. This is not “word-of-mouth” advertising. When I choose a business, I want someone who is smart and knows their business. I have seen this done intentionally to catch the reader’s attention, but it is a rare occasion. Incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammar can make a company look lazy, unintelligent, or sometimes worse. Perhaps even deepen an old college football rivalry.
[Now that I’ve made the great claim for grammar and punctuation, I bet you will all scrupulously edit my blog.]