Writing for people to read online is vastly different from writing for readers of a paper or even ebook page.
You’ve probably scanned this first paragraph to see if there is anything interesting. Maybe you are already scrolling down and reading the sub headings to see if I am going to convey anything relevant. If you had bought a book; having flicked through it, read the cover blurb and spent your hard-earned cash on it you would probably start at page one and read on from there.
There have been numerous reports that our attention spans are dropping. We hop TV channels, bounce off websites and watch shorter films. This may not be true according to Simon Maybin of BBC’s More or Less. There is evidence that sales of print books are on the rise as e books fall and children are still reading Harry Potter books according to the Guardian’s Paperback Fighter and Ebook sales continue to fall
There is a lot going on in the average person’s life today. There’s a TV in every room and laptops, tablets and mobile phones bombard us with messages and open up to a worldwide source of (mis) information. No wonder we scan digital pages whether looking for advice on how to change the cam belt on a 1963 Austin Cambridge or write the next best seller. The first photography website I created was on page one of Lycos (Google it if you are too young to have heard of it) within a month. Now, even if you enter my company name, Viewfinders Photography, I have disappeared without trace on Google, although I am on the first page of Bing.
So Do I Change My Writing Style?
Like most writers I read a lot about writing. Robert Graham’s How to Write a Short Story (And Think About It) is a clear and incisive guide to writing a short story. But its advice on developing conflict and narrative tension does not necessarily fit with a short attention span reader.
I use Yoast, an SEO (search engine optimization) plugin on my websites. The plugin often scores my fiction writing as difficult to read however Yoast’s Jesse van de Hulsbeek comments (Yoast SEO Hates My Writing Style) on their blog that if you feed Shakespeare or Hemmingway into the plug in it comes up with the same score – so there may be hope.
Are you writing fiction or to inform?
The sensible conclusion is that if you are writing ‘how to’ or to inform online then the text structure needs to guide the reader through topic under subheadings. For example my posts B12 Steam Locomotive and Leaving Space For Text are structured this way. Find out more about Setting Up a Clear Text Structure
If you are writing fiction then a good read and style will hold your reader but it might be a good idea to provide a printable PDF or for novels produce a paper book. Readers can then pick this up and read at their leisure. After all the battery has never gone flat on a piece of paper.
If you are wondering this post scores 73.6 on the Flesche Reading Ease test, none of the paragraphs are too long and 38% of the sentences contain a transition word. 34.3% of the sentences contain more than 20 words which means you might have got a bit bored.