In this brief missive, the challenges and benefits of simplifying language in Internet composition will be explored.
STOP. If that made your face contort in confusion and your stomach churn, it should have. It’s a ridiculous sentence. It uses the passive voice and a lot of extra words to express one straightforward idea. Any number of my former editors would have slashed that sentence and scrawled across the top, “KISS,” which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.
A little harsh, but I’ve been KISSed enough to know when to pucker up. Writing for the Internet is definitely one of those times. So, rule number one to KISSing:
- Know your audience. If you’re writing for a scientific quarterly, you’re going to use more specialized ideas and complicated ideas than if you’re writing a how-to article for a hobbies and crafts website. If you’re writing a scientific article for a general interest audience, you have tone down the specialized terms. Long story short—your writing must adapt to your audience.
A corollary to this:
- Know why your audience is reading. The audience for your how-to article, obviously wants to learn how to do your craft. They’re not looking for your short story on how you stumbled upon this craft idea while looking at a basket at a flea market—regardless of how entertaining that story may be.
- Make sure your article delivers what it promises. If it’s going to explain a complicated scientific research to a general audience, make sure you use general language. If you’re writing an article on how to write a sonnet, don’t start with a short essay on the history of the iambic pentameter. That should be in an article titled, “The History of Iambic Pentameter,” not “How to Write a Sonnet.”
These rules apply to every sentence. Every paragraph. Focus.
- Put the most important information first. This is known as the writer’s pyramid, an organizational scheme that puts the most important information at top. This has been used in journalism for so long because it caters to how people read—they read less and less as the article goes on, and soon only scan the head words of a paragraph. Though you may be thinking, “But this is the Internet, not the newspaper,” studies have found that the scanning phenomenon is more pronounced on the Internet than in print.
- Don’t alienate your audience. Simple sentences using the active voice are more successful than the mess of a sentence that started this article. Though a fancy word may make you look smarter as a writer, they often put off a reader, who may suddenly feel that your article isn’t written for them.
The demand for focused writing is due to the way we read the Internet. Most of us are searching for specific information, not looking for the next novel to dive into.
- Use bold, subtitles and white space to help your readers scan and find the information they’re looking for. The easier it is for your reader to find the information they want, the more they’ll like you.
KISS is more of a mantra than a technique, but it will help you deliver the kind of content that Internet readers appreciate—content that comes in very digestible chunks.