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How to Write a Readable Online Article

Updated on February 19, 2012

Know Your Readers

You want to write easy-to-read hubs that will entice your readers to come back for more? This article serves to remind you of information that you probably already know, but haven't thought to incorporate into your writing. This information is so obvious, you're going to say "but of course! I already knew that!"

Adults Don't Read

Adults don't read. They skim. Most of us adults aren't speed readers and there's way too much information out there for us to read things online in a linear fashion all the way through. Usually we read the first few sentences or paragraphs to determine if the article contains useful or entertaining information. Then, unless it is something we really need to know, like how to send a traffic ticket to the right place so we don't get our driver's license revoked or how to get our tax refund faster, we usually skim through the rest. We adults are distracted, too. We're reading on the phone while we're making dinner and getting body slammed by toddlers while we try to get our news.

Readers are Natural Editors

Many adult readers can't spell, but they recognize misspelled words in print. This vicious double standard means that if you are one of those adult readers who also happens to write, then you need to use your spell checker and grammar checker on your hub capsules. It's a sad fact: Articles that are misspelled damage your credibility as a writer. Case in point: I just ran the spell-check too and realized I had misspelled the word MISPELLED! That said, I will be the first to admit that it is difficult to be vigilant. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard if we want to be taken seriously as writers.

While this information is applicable to just about any adult online, you can dig into the deeper truths of just who is reading Your hubs by using the Google Analytics tool. This fact-filled application is available for free as part of the Google suite of tools. You can also link it to your Google Adsense reporting features.

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Format Your Writing for Easy Reading

If you are writing about an informational topic, particularly one that answers a specific question, make use of common techniques that help readers find the information they are seeking quickly. Readers want their information and they want it now.

Tips for formatting your informational topics

  • Break up long paragraphs into shorter topical paragraphs. Short paragraphs are easier to read on computer screens, especially mini laptops with 10 or 12-inch screens.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists. Lists help your readers to skim through information quickly. I'm a fan of using lists with bolded text that highlights the key idea. List your main point first and then follow with the details. I'm doing it now!
  • Use text boxes to call out specialized terminology. In my article How to Make Chain Mail from Coat Hangers, I use this technique.
  • Use relevant pictures and videos to break up your text and illustrate your information. Pictures add visual interest and can illustrate certain ideas more quickly and easily than the written word can. Please see my article How Much is a Terabyte, Anyway? to see how pictures can enhance a technical topic.
  • Talk directly to your reader. Use a conversational tone that is polite and direct, but not sloppy or overly personal. Many writers here on HubPages show a mastery of this writing style.
  • Use headings, but repeat the idea in the first paragraph too. When I was employed as a professional technical writer for a major corporation, the writers in our department debated about the effectiveness of placing information in headings. Two theories about headings exist. Some professional technical writers think that readers don't actually read headings. These writers still use headings, however, because headings create easy-to-skim structure for an article. Other writers believe readers use headings to catch main ideas. Do make use of headings. Personally, I believe that readers do skim headings.
  • Use easy-to-understand language. Keep in mind the purpose of your article. If your purpose is to share information, use easy-to-understand language that is appropriate for your audience. If your article written for a general audience, many technical writers who work for computer companies recommend writing at about a 5th grade reading level.
  • Avoid writing in ALL CAPS. IT IS THE ONLINE EQUIVALENT OF YELLING.


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  • LeonJane profile image

    LeonJane 7 years ago from Australia

    Excellent Hub! Well worth bookmarking, heaps and heaps of valuable info, thanks.

  • dohn121 profile image

    dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

    Hey, Wannabwestern. I'm jealous that you wrote this before me! But you did such a fantastic job that I'm not about to embarrass myself by writing one know. You really nailed the logistics on this one--hats off to you and thank you.

    Just wanted to check with you as I know you're a very busy woman, but have you seen my "Runny Babbit" bub yet? You might like it :D

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    @LeonJane. Thank you so much! I'm glad you found something you could use here.

    @dohn121: Aw, shucks! Write away. There's plenty of room for you to write a hub on this topic. In fact, I just touched a few basics of Google Analytics because several other Hubbers have covered this topic too. I can't wait to read your Runny Babbit hub. That will be a great way for me to end my day! I'll even Digg it and Stumble it for you, my friend!

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    These are great tips and information. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • dahoglund profile image

    Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

    You are very right about adults not reading but skimming. Being old fashioned I usually have to print things out that I want to read in detail.I usually have to print out my own writing to catch spelling errors missed by spell check. Even then I miss some. Very useful information here.

  • Lily Rose profile image

    Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

    Excellent hub, excellent points made! I wish more people would feel as you (and I) do about your Nugget Number Three. I know that no one is perfect, nor am I, but misspellings and improper grammar are a big pet peeve of mine; some writers definitely lose credibility with me when I start seeing a lot of errors in their writings.

    Are you familiar with the book "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves"? Every one should own a copy, in my humble opinion!

    Thanks for the great article.

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    @Hello Hello: Thank you. I think I break a lot of my own rules but I'm glad people keep reading me anyway.

    @Dahoglund: I agree with you that editing on paper is easier than doing it on screen. Our 14-something year old HP Laserjet 5L finally gave up the ghost so we have been completely paperless here for about 6 months. I wish that I were as careful as you. I know my writing is full of grammar and spelling gaffs. Spelling especially is not my forte, especially after I took two foreign languages. I capitalize my nouns all over the place where it isn't necessary after taking German. Thanks again for reading. I've been so impressed with your content!

    @Lilly Rose: I've heard that title but honestly have never read it. I'll have to pick up a copy and give it a read. Thank you.

  • profile image

    smarleygrl7 7 years ago

    Very good points! I will admit to being a skim reader, such a bad habit of mine!

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Hey smarleygrl7, there's absolutely nothing wrong with skimming. It's what we do, and it's because we're flooded with information. Please sign up for HP so I can read and not skim your first hub! Cheers!

  • sukhera143 profile image

    sukhera143 7 years ago from Home

    Very nice tips.

  • creativeone59 profile image

    benny Faye Douglass 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

    Wow and wow,great information, thanks for all you informative info. creativeone59

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks so much creativeone59!

  • profile image

    hybridway 7 years ago

    Thanks, This is a valuable and informative hub. A must to read for beginners like me. You are a good hubberlite.

  • gennext4sid profile image

    gennext4sid 7 years ago

    Nice hub. It's a worth read. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks gennext4sid, it's not your usual make more money with Adsense hub (though I like those too). Have a great day.

  • lindagoffigan profile image

    lindagoffigan 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    wannabwestern, you wrote an awesome hubpage on how to write a readable online article. You followed the advice in the article and broke up your text for easy readability and admitted the importance of the spell check feature. I did not scan through the article as many adult readers probably do because I am genuinely interested in what you had to say.

    Great Hub.

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    lindagoffigan, I'm honored that you READ instead of skimmed my article, but now I'm breaking one of my rules! LOL!

  • The Rope profile image

    The Rope 7 years ago from SE US

    Excellent hub! Clear, concise and informative - it was a pleasure to read and a great reminder. We are honored to be part of a community that includes you.

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thank you. I've been reading your hubs this morning and posted a link to one from my cowboys hub. Thank you for the complimentary remarks.

  • Filipino girls profile image

    Filipino girls 7 years ago

    Very good information and tips

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks.

  • Nemingha profile image

    Nemingha 7 years ago

    You did a really great job on this, thanks.

  • Csjun89 profile image

    Csjun89 7 years ago

    Good and detailed article, worthy of the hub name!

  • profile image

    Investbank 7 years ago

    Great - thanks for these tips.

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks for the great tips (and the smack on the head!). I have tried to activate Google Analytics on my Hubs without any success, so if you've got some tips on how to do that ...?

    Anyway I love your writing.

    Love and peace

    Tony

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

    OK so I'm a dummy - found out how to access the Google stuff already!

    Cheers

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks tonymac04! I'm glad you were able to hook up to Google Analytics. This information helped me to get a clearer idea of who is and isn't reading my hubs.

    Yours should look a lot different than mine, I think! And I'm always happy to give a smack in the head lol!

  • mel22 profile image

    mel22 7 years ago from ,

    Well Written article here! Very informitive!

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks mel22, I really like your profile picture!

  • LivingFood profile image

    LivingFood 6 years ago

    Wow lots of great info! I'm not very good at editing, but getting better...:)

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks LivingFood, editing is not my strong point either. I usually have to laugh at myself a bit when I go through my writing with a spell-checker. I am always finding mistakes!

  • profile image

    Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

    Thank you wannabwestern. I am trying to catch up on some of my favorites, and I found this. A great article (that I skimmed first by the way).

    You have certainly used many of your own tips in writing this. It is well laid out for the "skimmer" to pick up that it's worth the read.

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks Duchess,

    This article originated from my experience as a corporate technical writer, so it doesn't really address monetizing as much as how to write a quality technical article. I'm glad it appealed to you, and thanks for commenting!

  • cheapsk8chick profile image

    cheapsk8chick 6 years ago

    Great info! Thanks for sharing! I will certainly put some of these practices to (hopefully good!) use. I'm not a writer by any means, but so enjoy trying!

  • wannabwestern profile image
    Author

    Carolyn Augustine 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks cheapsk8chick, but you are a natural: as good a writer as any I have seen on HubPages, and better than most. I'm glad you've joined up and hope some of these tips will be of some help.

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