The Rules for Writing Online Content Are Not What You Think

What’s different about online?

If you think writing online content is particularly different from writing print content, think again!

It’s not the medium that determines the rules; it’s another factor. It doesn’t have a name, so let’s call it Todd. Todd is combination of audience and form – a double-whammy that helps guide you to write in a way that can be easily read. If you multiply the attention span of your audience by the chaos of the form, you get your Todd Factor.

The higher the Todd factor, the more you need to:

  • Leave white space to let text breathe
  • Use particular fonts that are easy to read
  • Include bold text to emphasize headings for easy scanning

You also need to:

  • Provide images that replace text information but also provide a mental break.
  • Use a catchy narrator voice that makes you sound hip and relatable. (Know what I mean?)
  • Chunk details into 3s. This list used to be just one, but I caught myself in editing.

Lower Todd Factors mean that the audience’s attention span can be expected to be longer, or the form is quiet. This allow for more colourful language, longer prose, and lists in regular text prose. My blog has lots of white space, the Metro free newspaper has little of that.

To the degree that there are differences in online / offline reading, the rules depend more on the human context of your form than on your medium alone.

That’s all for this week,

P.S. The interview with Josh reminded me how much more attention you can earn when you make a social connection with the reader / listener / viewer. The art framed in Kristi’s mis-en-scene had an impact on the amount of caring I brought to listening to the interview. This weekend at the HotDocs Podcast festival, I saw a podcaster in real life that I previously had only heard in voice, and this already made listening to recent episodes a more fulsome experience.

I guess seeing or hearing a person creates a connection to them as a narrator and perhaps buys them a couple more pages of attention in print, or an extra few seconds of eye scanning on their blog.

Flesh Reading Level 65.8

Crossposted from my now-retired blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

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