Digital media allows us to publish anything we want, whenever we want. But that doesn’t mean it will be read. Writing alone will not persuade a reader to engage with your company.
In “Don’t Make Me Think,” Steve Krug examines website usability and internet reading habits. “We don’t read pages,” he writes. “We scan them.” Readers are “usually on a mission to get something done, and usually done quickly.”
So how do you get Internet users to stop scanning and see what you have to offer? How can you write effectively for digital media?
Through structure, tone of voice and multimedia. We explore these three keys below.
All web writing must have structure — within the narrative itself and surrounding the material. In “Writing for Digital Media,” Brian Carroll notes that web readers need to be given “clues, signposts and highlights” so that the content is “shaped for scanning.”
Very few people read a flood of 10,000 unguided words on a webpage. Give your reader clear guideposts, utilizing prominent headlines, bylines, captions, hyperlinks, lists, one-sentence teasers, lead-in and concise summary paragraphs. Give them natural breaks in the text, and allow them to scan to what parts they deem important.
Tone of Voice
We’ve covered this before, but it’s always good to review. Consider your audience when you’re thinking about the tone of your writing. Because web readers scan information, they will quickly detect whether the copy is worth their time. A compelling tone of voice, and the proper usage of it, should stop them in their tracks before they run elsewhere.
If the audience wants to be informed, the composition’s tone may be more fact and research driven instead of subjective, casual and conversational. If the audience wants to engage with material that is conversational instead of authoritative and fact driven, the writer may want to use first-person narration.
The voice may also be different depending where the text is being published, whether on a website, social media or another digital media platform. That will dictate the shape and style of the text.
Think beyond the written product. What else can accompany your writing to enhance a reader’s experience? Multimedia can provide an enriching storytelling experience for the reader. No one wants to read a big chunk of copy. Photos, videos, graphics and other animation can help break up longer works, and ultimately make it more interesting.
The New York Times created an award-winning multimedia-driven experience in a story about an avalanche in Washington. Animations, video interviews, sound, hyperlinks and images merge with the copy to provide a stunning narrative experience that text alone could not have achieved and what digital media made possible.
In short, a digital media writer must utilize an assortment of techniques and technologies to create a compelling experience for readers — the ultimate goal.