The Checklist: How to Write and Format Web Content

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Writing for the Web is not like writing a college paper (thank goodness), which means you probably don’t have a lot of practice at ideal formatting. Unlike the world of academia where literally millennia have gone into developing forms and formats, webpages have only had a couple brief decades to find their bearings. To help those still in the early phases of writing web content (a.k.a. the phase of confusion and panic), here is a basic checklist to go through before publishing work.

Are My Sentences Too Long?

Every sentence will express a very different thought, so variation is natural and even good in writing. However, sentences that extend too long will simply confuse and infuriate readers. Try to keep your sentences no longer than about 40 words, which equates to about two lines in average web publications.

Are My Paragraphs Too Long?

Advice varies on how long paragraphs should be, but the general consensus is they should be “edible.” What this means for the standard user is typically somewhere around three to five lines of text, or roughly 50 to 100 words. Variation is certainly acceptable, but it shouldn’t extend too far beyond the crunch three to five lines.

Are My Sentences Too Complex?

Are you using several independent clauses, all joined together, one after another, in a series of commas that seems to never end, running on forever like it’s being chased, kind of like I’m doing now; perhaps it doesn’t even end with a typical period but instead continues, frivolously, self-interjecting, whisking around – like it’s beating brownie batter! – and, in the end, doing nothing more than confusing all your readers. There can be something elegant and beautiful about complex sentences, but they diminish reader comprehension and patience.

As a general standard, try not to have more than two independent clauses in a sentence (that will usually mean no more than one comma) and use abnormal punctuation sparingly. Sentences that are currently too complex can easily be re-cast into multiple sentences or slightly new phrasing.

Are My Headlines Active?

Drawing readers in is even more important on the Web, where the article title may be all some potential visitors have to go off of. Make your headlines interesting and active by including numbers (such as 6Plot Threads Famous Movies Forgot to Resolve), clear indications of the use of the information (such as the “how to” mentioned in the title of this article), and energetic adjectives (such as The World’s Creepiest Plants).

Is My Headline Too Long?

The headline should only take up one line of text, which means that it shouldn’t exceed about 50 characters (assuming you’re using a standard H1 tag size). That’s roughly six to eight words of content, varying pretty broadly dependent on how long the words you use are.

Do I Have an Introduction?

Even with the best headline in the world, you will want to introduce the content to come. This can be anything from a two line summary of what you’re about to say to a five line background on how the industry was started. The point is that you should prepare readers so that your direction and organization are both clear before you present your data, arguments, or other content.

Have I Proofread This Piece?

Nothing says “I don’t care” quite like a blatant tiepoh in the middle of your piece. Most people require at least a couple proofings before they catch all the errors, and even then some are bound to slip through. Make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions by doing your due diligence even after the final paragraph is written; just because you’ve finished writing doesn’t mean the article is complete.

Am I Inviting Feedback?

While it won’t always make sense to do so, most places where you are publishing web content probably allow for reader comments. Capitalize on this by inviting users to leave comments. The most effective approach tends to be providing one or two specific questions to stir conversation and get the ball rolling.

Keep in mind, as a rule, that rules should regularly be broken. What about you? Which of the above rules is it nearly impossible for you to prevent yourself from bending in each article?

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
Ann Smarty
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  • Seth

    You might want to add appropriate linking to the list. “Click here” is so Adobe. Great stuff.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I like to write my headlines first, then make sure I live up to their potential with my content. Writing the headline first keeps you focused on the goal of your article. If you start to stray away from the headline, you’ve got another article for another day. But you’ve got to stay focused and concise to keep readers engaged.

  • Suraj Vibhute

    Attractive and proper length of headline can drive more attention, few people tend to read only sub points so I think using sub heading is very necessary, nice tips Ann.

  • Bruce Michael

    Ann Your title contains less then 50 words but it is in 2 lines 😛
    Just Kidding – Nice Article very useful information.

  • Waynmeyer

    this is really some of the best advice i have ever had, my english teacher at scholl must of sucked haha…….thanx for the great blog i will be sure to follow and share

  • rebo7

     Writing good content is the key to success in writing articles.  Some nice tips in this article, so thanks.