09. General writing principles

Just like reading, web writing obeys very different rules than print writing. Short, simple, concrete and imaginative writing is a must. There are a few rules you need to master, starting by knowing how to work hypertext links.

Basic rules

Even though the Internet doesn’t differ from journalism as a whole, it uses writing rules inspired by press agencies and radio. Your article must abide by :

  • The inverted pyramid diagram : what’s most newsworthy comes in straight away.
  • The 5Ws rule (Who ? What ? Where ? When ? Why ?).
  • Straight-to-the-point, concise, informative writing style, using keywords in short sentences, in active voice rather than passive.

Besides these basic rules, web writing also involves :

  • Shorter and differentiated paragraphs, each of them expressing only one idea, with a case-analysis-example construction.
  • Abundant use of typographic code elements (bold, underline, italics…), bullet-point lists (like in this case !) and quotes blocks so as to multiply entry points into the text.
  • The common but not overplayed use of links to give depth to the article.
  • Finally, avoid wordplay, particularly in your titles: search engines don’t get them…

What’s a good hypertext link ?

Hypertext links play the same part in web articles that footnotes do in good books. You need to find a balance between too much and too few. Say your article is between 3000 and 5000 signs long, a good medium is between 5 and 10 links. Therefore you need to pick them well. How ? A link can be used to :

  • Define a term the audience doesn’t know
  • Bring further development of a pivotal idea
  • Lead back to a source you think is essential to reading comprehension

Whichever the motive, you need to choose wisely the anchor of your link, that is to say the words you click to get the link (see 4). They’re usually bolded, underlined or written in another color. The anchor mustn’t be too long (no longer than a sentence) nor too short (at least three words), and most of all it must be relevant to the content of the page you’re linking to.

Practicing good natural referencing

If you stick to these rules, you’ll get good natural referencing thanks to your writing. Search engines will take your articles much more into account if they use the right keywords, especially in the head, subheads and the first few sentences.