Five Basic Principles for Writing Online
The world as we know it is flooded and afloat with words, words, words. Expression through words is not only an instinct for mankind, but it is also a necessity. We must speak; we must write. But with the modern age comes a most distressing innovation that has turned our neatly stacked, written world upside down: the Internet.
The world wide web has become a gateway for writers to instantly share their thoughts with the rest of the plugged-in, hot-spotted humanity. We can write, and we can read, and there is no one who can stop us! No editors, no slush piles, no mark-ups! This freedom doesn't always work for the best though, we must admit. With almost no authority and no boss, we writers are left to fill all roles and hold ourselves responsible. Otherwise, the words come to ruin and we treat the internet like a garbage dump, throwing out disorganized thoughts whenever (at whoever) we feel like. Note innumerable pointless blogs, those irritating internet trolls, and bold-faced revenue-forcing articles.
For myself, coming from a pen-and-paper background, online writing took some getting used to. I was amazed at the limitless subjects on which I could write. I was excited to know that others could read (and yes, criticize) my work. But I was also puzzled as to the difference between online writing and paper writing. Believe me, there is a difference. The average internet surfer does not sit in an armchair and take an hour to leisurely peruse your thoughtful discourse on what you had for breakfast. When we read online, we are often simply scanning the page, looking for interesting highlights, colorful pictures, etc.
So, to come to my point, we, as writers, need to train ourselves to take our online writing just as seriously as we would that short story sent to the editor at Bread Loaf. We need to guard against simply stuffing the void with fast-thought words in belittling attempts at earning more than twenty-five cents a day. We need these principles to make our internet writing worth the read: brevity, clarity, value, originality, and truth.
Point made, I will obstinately remind you that it was the garrulous Polonius who ironically said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Please also do me the favor of forgetting the length of my first four paragraphs when considering this principle of brevity. I know I am not the only one with a short attention span for reading online. When we see an interminable web page crowded with black-and-white words, we will never read to the end. Let's just say it's human nature. We writers must learn to say what we mean in as few words as possible (*cough*), otherwise we will lose as many readers as we have words. Keep it short, concise, simple, and non-repetitive.
As with writing on paper, online non-fiction writing needs to be as clear as possible. A reader is unable to make eye contact with you; he cannot see your facial expressions; he will most likely find himself confused about the underlying pompous irony in the preceding paragraph. He needs to know the bold facts without the possibility of misinterpreting them. Words are nothing if not understood. I rather think that many online disputes are triggered by misinterpretation and misunderstanding. In that case, a smiley-face simply does not cut it :)
Whatever you say, whatever you write, think carefully in advance. Words have a hidden power that fists and force have never had. They are a part of us, and they inevitably change us. We need to be sure to give our readers only the best of words. Our online writing needs to be informative, interesting, and useful. We also need to respect our readers, realizing that they are actually flesh-and-blood people, not just computer screens. We should only write online what we would not be ashamed to say face-to-face. Life is too short and the internet too vast to add more to the trash pile. Whether we are writing a hub, a blog post, or a comment, we need to write words of value.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, so every online writer needs to use his or her secret weapon: originality. Your personality and individual perspective is the only thing you have a monopoly on. It's very tempting to gather three or four sources from a Google search, chew up the words a bit, and spew them back out as "your own" content. But this is, in fact, content plagiarism. Your words need to be your words, your thoughts. Research is important, yes, but never forget to write what you know, write what you believe, write yourself out.
The most important thing for any writer to do is to write the truth, at all costs. A writer who lies can be extremely damaging to his readers, even to society. Write what you know to be true. This can be difficult since the internet holds a multitude of contradictions to be truths. Discernment is a tricky business. We need to do our research and research the research. The reward of telling the truth? Readers who trust you and your words in a dangerously inaccurate internet world.
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