I get lots of question about writing for the web and email. Here are my rapid-fire responses to the five most popular questions.
1. What do people want to read in our email newsletter or website?
Whatever they find interesting. Note this is not necessarily what you think they should care about! Always put yourself in your readers' shoes. I wrote more about this on my blog this week in "Online Writing: It's All about Answers and Actions."
2. Should we write in a newsy, factual style or a more personal, chatty style?
It really depends on your organization and the value you are providing to your readers, but in general, I advise nonprofits to lean toward a more conversational style. Readers expect a more friendly, casual tone with online writing (perhaps to counter the fact that the technology they read it on seems so impersonal).
3. How long should our e-newsletter and website articles be?
When you are converting from print to pixels, the rule of thumb is to cut the length in half. Use 500 words as a target and adjust from there. Always include headings and subheadings. The longer the article, the more you need them. See "The Art of Chunking: An Online Writing Essential" for more on breaking up your text.
4. What font, size, and color should we use for our website and email newsletters?
No matter what you pick, make sure that it's very easy to read. Online readers skim more than read, which makes legibility even more important. Verdana and Georgia were both designed for the screen and Arial and Trebuchet work well online too. Err on the side of too large rather than too small. Use dark text on light backgrounds.
5. What's the most important part of an e-newsletter article or web page content?
The headlines and subheadings, followed by the first few sentences of each section. That's where people will look first to decide whether to stop and read. (I bet you skimmed the five questions in bold before deciding to read this article, didn't you?)
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