How online writing differs from traditional print (and how it\’s the same)

I think the first time I knew I wanted to write for a living was sometime around second grade, which for me was in the early to mid-1980s. If you would have told me then that instead of writing for newspapers and other printed materials that I would be writing on something called “the internet,” I would have told thought you were stuck in some sci-fi movie.

Common misconceptions about traditional print vs. online writing

I often hear people say that “print is dead” and that’s simply not true. It’s simply evolving and is often used to support online information whereas formerly, online writing was used to supplement written materials. Most print materials, such as whitepapers, can now be downloaded from the internet, making the print and online world even more connected.

Another common misunderstanding that people have is that there are only certain things that can be done in print; however, most items that used to be solely in print are now found online. Below are the various forms of online writing, some of which are typically thought of as print.

While print and online writing are connected, they are also completely different in many ways. Today we’re going to talk about online writing and how it compares to print writing.

Examples of online writing

First, let’s look at a few common writing styles you can find online.

  • Websites: the most common form of online writing is on websites, which is typically a set of pages that contain relevant information to the domain name and organization it represents.
  • Blogs: while blogs can be found attached to websites, they can stand on their own. An individual or small group typically writes blogs, and they are generally informal or conversational articles.
  • Newsletters: a newsletter is a bulletin that is issued periodically to the members of an organization or business. These are most often sent as an email instead of a printed brochure that would have been mailed via the post office.
  • Online Magazines/News sites: much like the televised news or daily newspaper, online news seeks to report on local, national, or global events.
  • Fan Fiction: fan fiction is a type of writing that revolves around an existing TV series, movie, etc., and is written by a fan.


Comparing online vs traditional print writing

Good writing matters

Both online and print writing share some characteristics. For instance, good writing should go relatively unnoticed. Most people know bad writing, so it will stand out and it will diminish a writer’s credibility. Furthermore, a majority of people will not read an entire piece, so ensuring quality writing is essential both online and in print.

Fortunately, Google emphasizes quality and relativity in its search algorithms so content that is well-written and useful for the reader will be pushed to the top. This makes writing for both audiences much easier.

Traditional print: 1 audience, Online: 2 audiences

Beyond that, there is a major difference between online and print writing. Traditional print writing is centered only on the reader. Online writers have two audiences: their readers and the search engines. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) becomes vital at this point, because it is food for the search engines. You can improve your SEO through using keywords and links (but mostly strategically placed keywords). Good writing and mobile responsive will also increase your SEO as Google will push quality content to the top of the search results.

Space capacity and skimmable formatting

Another difference between online and print writing is that print has only a certain amount of space, while online writing has an unlimited space. However, it is important to remember that online writing has to address the needs of a reader who is just skimming much more than a print reader would. Studies show that a mere 30 percent of online writing is read thoroughly so making your content easily skimmable is vital.

How do you make a document easier to skim? Use subheads, short paragraphs and make sure that the most important information is towards the top of the article.

Are you struggling to adapt your writing style to more online-friendly formats? I’d love to help you learn. Contact me today to find out more about my online writing consultation services.

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