On the web, every site is an equal distance away, intensifying the competition for attention and dollars that we see in the physical world. With one click, web users can surf away from a website, happy or disgruntled.
This heightened competition combines with technology’s effect on reading habits to redouble reader expectations. To be successful, websites need to publish text in a writing style that supports the environment.
While copyeditors might bemoan the lack of quality writing on the web, it is possible to create text that meets the web’s needs without sacrificing writing standards.
One way to help your writer’s web copy is to break up longer paragraphs. Dense paragraphs are hard to read online, and readers tend to skip over them. By breaking up paragraphs, we keep the readers’ eyes moving and their minds engaged.
Breaking up paragraphs can be challenging to editors who learned paragraphing in the pre-internet days. Like me, you were likely taught that a paragraph should start with a topic sentence and continue until the topic is fulfilled. The paragraph should be as long as it needs to be, whether this means several lines or several pages (James Joyce, I’m looking at you).
But that won’t wash online. Give readers a 7- or 10-sentence paragraph, and they’ll skip it.
Instead, try for two to three sentences per paragraph. For example, start with the topic sentence and a supporting fact, and then break the paragraph. Continue to the next paragraph with one to two more supporting facts. Follow this structure until you get to the end of the topic.
One-sentence or one-word paragraphs can help pace the text. Because of the pause they create, they grab the reader’s attention. An emphatic statement or a shift in topic is a good candidate for a one-sentence or one-word paragraph.
For examples of effective short paragraphs and more editing techniques, join me on May 17, 2017, for my Editing for the Web Master Class. This is a free class! If you’ve never tried one our Master Classes, this is your opportunity. Sign up today!