Writing for Print vs. Web Publications

Writing for Print vs. Digital

If you’re interested in pursuing a journalism degree or just want to become a professional writer, you may have already noticed a big difference between writing for web vs. print. There are a few stereotypes between the two audiences that hold true, and we’ll get into that in a moment, but the important distinction is your own personal interest. Learning to craft stories and essays appealing to the two mediums is an important step forward in your career.

Web Writing vs Print Writing

So what about these stereotypes we mentioned earlier? According to Dr. Jakob Nielsen, called “the guru of Web page usability” by The New York Times, the way we absorb information in print-based articles versus online is dramatically different.

A prominent Web writing guide by Kerry Redshaw broke down many of Dr. Nielsen’s findings, including:

  • Web users generally ignore extraneous graphics.
  • 79% of users scan the page instead of reading word for word, focusing on headlines, summaries and captions.
  • Web readers are three times more likely than newspaper readers to limit in-depth reading to short paragraphs.
  • Of those web users who do read the entire page, most only absorb 75% of the content.

This brought Dr. Nielsen to the following conclusions, essential information for anyone considering a career in writing for print vs. web.

  • Web content should have 50% of the word count of its paper equivalent.

Why? Because:

  • Users don’t read on the Web. They scan pages and pick out headings, sentences, and phrases to find what they need.

As a whole, articles are easier to consume on web-based platforms if they’re more concise, if the paragraphs are shorter, and if a reader can take away essential information by just skimming the piece. This doesn’t say much for those writers who may be interested in long-form or investigative journalism, but it says a lot about what the end user typically reads.

While print publications are dying across the country—magazine readership, even, is at an all-time low—the move toward writing online is not only a smart decision, but a good investment for your future career. Legendary publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post will always employ long-form feature writers and columnists, but if your goal is to find yourself in a lucrative career, writing for the web is the right choice.

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