Writing for the Internet

I recently read a blog post on Huffington Post, and I cannot wait to share it with our junior high students next fall.  The blog post (click here to read it) by Melody Moezzi is a comedic stab at how the internet has changed the way we read.  The blogger writes about the need to be succinct and reader-friendly in order to minimize reading time.  After all, readers are clicking their way through the internet and probably won’t stay long.  (The embedded link to the Slate article is a wonderful read on this topic as well.)

First, I am eager to hear the kids’ reaction to the content of this article.  Does it ring true for them?  When reading online, do they look for bullet points, skip the endings?  I will admit that it rings true for me.  I do not read online material with the same focus and intensity that I read print material.  I skim.  I scan.  I skip.  This blog post can be a great lead-in to a discussion of our online reading habits.

I also plan on using this blog post to discuss the impact of the internet on writing style.  Some of the editorial “tips” outlined in this post are:

  • Use bold, italicized, and underlined words to add emphasis
  • Abbreviations are okay, sometimes preferable
  • Use lists and bullet points
  • Shorter is better – under 500 words is ideal
  • Insert multimedia clips
  • Wrap up with a concise one-liner that will increase your “following”

As a blogger, I certainly keep word count and “readability” in mind when I write.  However, this is a tone to this Huffington Post blog that suggests these “tips” are in lieu of good writing.  Can you have both: internet readability and good writing?

I would like to perform a small experiment with the students.  We will dig through our writing portfolios and find traditional piece of informational writing.  Then, we can “blogify” it using the tips mentioned above.  Rewrite it to increase its internet readability, and discuss the results.  Some things we’ll consider are:

What changes did you make to your original piece?
How would you describe the quality of the new piece?  Is it better, worse, or the same?
Do you have any other tips for internet readability?
What does all of this mean for you as a writer?

The internet has changed the way we read and write.  I think this lesson will allow students to reflect on those changes and think about how they might approach their next blog post, as both a reader and a writer.