A Career in Online Writing and Editing
by Sacha Cohen
A few years ago, the title of editorial content manager or online writer didn't really exist. Today, these jobs are all the rage. After all, someone has to write and edit the millions of words on the Web. It's surprising that it has taken this long to become a legitimate field! The Web is now overflowing with sites dedicated to online writing and editing professions, with more cropping up daily. If you are a print writer or editor, or aspire to be one, you might consider writing for the Web in addition to print. Also, if you have a liberal arts degree or are considering PR, marketing or advertising, it can't hurt to understand the fundamentals of writing for the Web as well.
As the Web evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so will the role of online editor and writer. Not only should you be a competent and engaging communicator, but it can't hurt to also learn the fundamentals of Web design and production as well. A background in Web technologies such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash and Java are helpful, but those can be added later. First, focus on your core competencies.
The best way to break into the online writing field is with a strong writing and/or editorial background. If you don't have a degree in English or journalism, you can still improve your skills by taking continuing education writing and editing classes, and it never hurts to take a seminar occasionally to help you brush up on your editing skills. Knowing basic HTML, HTML editors (such as Allaire HomeSite or Microsoft FrontPage) and content management tools (such as Vignette's Story Server) are helpful. However, it's your primary job to make the site's content compelling and relevant to your audience.
Where Do I Begin?
On the Web, of course! It's one of the best places to gather information about the field and to learn how others are using online media to communicate, entertain and inform.
There is a huge and growing market for online editors and writers who know how to communicate via the Web and who understand the principles of writing for this medium. Salaries vary a great deal depending on experience.
Don't forget to use common sense. Think about what you enjoy reading online, why certain sites are more engaging than others and what troubles you about some Web sites (such as long scrolling text, hard-to-read fonts, poor organisation, and meaningless links).
Print the following tips to supplement your in-depth style guide:
- Know your audience -- they should always be foremost in your mind.
- Write well, edit like crazy. Concise, to the point -- people read 25% slower onscreen, so text needs to be about 50% shorter.
- Include attention-grabbing, meaningful headlines, links and subheads.
- Avoid using jargon and buzzwords. Be direct, clear and concise.
- Use proper grammar. Just because it's on the Web doesn't mean it's OK to be sloppy.
- Keep ideas and thoughts in chunks. A paragraph should only contain one idea.
- Avoid scrolling text. However, sometimes readers want to print out articles or information, so offer a printer-friendly version in addition to breaking up text.
- Make sure links make sense contextually. In other words, don't link a phrase or a word to something that is completely irrelevant. You want to keep your audience's attention, not lead them down a dead end.
In addition, a few good ways to break up text so it's easier to read on the screen include using lists, bulleted items, short phrases, brief summaries, sidebars, and links to additional pages.
Finally, spend time online so that you are comfortable with the medium. Think about it: You wouldn't write for a magazine without reading several issues first and getting to know the magazine's style, tone and audience, would you? The same is true online.