Keep it Brief: Tips for Writing Online

Content From: Aisha Moore, Communications Associate,, and Alan Gambrell, Managing Partner, Public InkPublished: January 16, 20133 min read


Man Using TabletThese days anyone can publish a blog on any topic without prior writing experience or a degree in journalism or English. Even with credentials, online writing is different from technical and scientific writing. Based on an analysisExit Disclaimer of 45,237 pageviews, Jakob Nielsen found that people read an average of 18% of what’s on a page. Given that, we have to approach online writing a little differently than we do scientific or technical writing —with added attention to brevity.

Similar to the information- and consumer-centric focus of the Digital Government Strategy, we must also aim to reach our audiences with well-written, researched, and concise content. At the 2012 Ryan White All Grantee Meeting, the TARGET CenterExit Disclaimer and shared online writing tips with the HIV Community.

10 Tips for Online Writing
  1. Ask “can my audience use this information?” The best topics to cover include new contributions to the topic, sharing resources, event information, content updates, and your perspective. We can also use analyticsExit Disclaimer and user testing to gauge the effectiveness of our content.
  1. Keep it Brief. As mentioned above, even the most beautifully written and researched information may not get read because it’s too long. Lead with a summary or conclusions and hope they read the rest of the detail below.
  1. Hook them with Headlines. Keep the title to 3-8 words. Try to appeal to your audience with words that convey action, purpose, and outcomes.
  1. Lead with your Lede. Unlike scientific writing, your most important information goes first--the conclusion. In journalism speak, this is the lede, or the intro section that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story. Good ledes try to answer, as much as possible, the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  1. Get permission to quote/attribute. If you are publishing original content or interviews, send an email to the subject to confirm your quote. You want to avoid misinterpretations.
  1. Repurpose, don’t copy. Don’t be afraid to copy/paste from existing items, but credit your source and change them appropriately. If compiling a general announcement (e.g., upcoming event, funding announcement), go online and search for what others may have already written for inspiration, but modify and make it your own.
  1. Understand the mechanics of posting content. Outside of writing make sure you know how to efficiently put your content online. You may need to be familiar with adding links, uploading photos, and some basic HTMLExit Disclaimer.
  1. Ensure what you write is accurate. Online information is often dated, possibly inaccurate. Make sure you check your information. For example, it’s typically a good idea to verify with two sources (websites, people, and publications) you consider reputable.
  1. Use visuals/graphics wisely. All computers come with basic photo editing software. Make sure to crop your photos so the subject is clear.
  1. Don’t go overboard with information. Reduce up front clutter, like laundry lists of services. Also, avoid endorsement or enthusiasm and maintain your neutral voice.

Do you have any online writing tips you can share with us?