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Writing in print vs. writing on the web

My answer to: How does writing articles for the web differ stylistically from writing articles for print? (To vote and comment on Quora, visit the link here.)

Whether you write for the web or print, you look at what is the maximum unit of space that a reader can see in one go without actually reading the words.

  • For a newspaper article placed somewhere on a broadsheet, the maximum unit is the article. This means that a reader can capture the whole article in one piece in one glance when he looks at that part of the newspaper.
  • For a magazine article which is 3 pages long, the maximum unit is the page. In one glance, the most a reader can capture with the eyes, is a page.
  • For a web article, the maximum unit is the screen. To move to further part of the article, the reader has to scroll up or down.

Let us call this unit of space as “maximum visible portion” (MVP). (So, for a newspaper article, 1 MVP = 1 article. For a magazine article, 1 MVP = 1 page. For a web article which takes three scroll-downs to read the whole piece, 1 MVP = ~one-third of the article, i.e. one screen-height.) Any form of writing has the same objective: to present each MVP of the article in such a way that it encourages the reader to read the other MVPs. (This means, that for a magazine, you want the reader to turn the page and read the article further, and for a web article, you want the reader to scroll down.)

Measuring popularity and business on the web and in print are fundamentally different: on the web, you need to keep your reader on the website for as long as possible, even if it means stealing article-space from your MVP. In print, a reader closing your magazine doesn’t have much of a bearing on business and popularity, as long as you’re getting the ads and sales. But on the web, a reader who closes the tab is very less likely to come back to your website later.

Due to all this, one fundamental difference between the MVPs of print and MVPs of screen is that the former covers a lot more words than the latter. This is because of two reasons:

  • the font-size in print is usually smaller than on screen, because people are more used to read on print
  • the MVP of a print article usually covers only the article’s content, whereas the single screen span of a web article also covers the sidebar, with stuff like social media buttons/statistics, ads, links of other posts and comments, and so on: basically stuff to keep you on the website.

These two reasons impact the style. Web articles have to be far more attractive and have to contain the cream of the content at very visible MVPs. This is done through pull-quotes, boldfaces, bullets, pictures, and the like. Also, the share buttons are prominently placed: even the share buttons are an important part of the article because one click on a share button has the potential to make your article go viral (even if the person who clicked it didn’t read it himself!).

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