From Online Journalism Review,
Annenberg School of Journalism, University of Southern California

How to write for the Web

Online writers can communicate with their readers in many more forms than the traditional news article. Blogs, wikis and discussion boards dissolve the barrier between writer and reader, creating a more informal and interactive writing environment. Take advantage of this opportunity and distinguish yourself by writing in a clean, active, conversational style that will make your readers feel as comfortable reading your words as they feel when talking with a close friend.


Great bloggers speak with informed, personal authority through an honest, lively voice. Their posts often engage readers in a productive conversation through comments posted to the blog.

To write a great blog, write about what you know your passion, well researched and reported. Employ the skills of a news columnist, crafting a personal, first-person voice that readers will find engaging, comfortable and honest. When you don't know something, do not be afraid to admit it. Great bloggers see their posts as the first comment in a conversation, rather than the final word on that particular topic.


Wikis are the ultimate exercise in "writing by committee." Avoid blogging's first person and blend your edits into the tone and flow of the existing article. Wikis, typically, are not the place for personal opinion and analysis. Present the facts and acknowledge controversies in clear, clean and neutral language.

Discussion boards

Running a good discussion board is like hosting a radio talk show. Don't ask "yes" or "no" questions. Solicit personal anecdotes. Understand that people need to vent and ramble from time to time, but work to bring the conversation back on topic before flame wars erupt or fickle readers click away. And, above all, keep the momentum going.

No one person can maintain a discussion board 24/7. You'll need help, from both your board members and your software. But you can set an example with thoughtful comments and questioning that other board members can follow.

General tips

The shorter, the better: Readers appreciate writers who do not waste their time. Simple, direct language communicates your thoughts more efficiently than your bloated demonstration of all that stuff the rest of us slept through in English class.

Active voice: "Do it," don't "will have been done" it. Reserve passive voice for situations where you don't know the subject, such as crime and court reports. But even then, try to cast as much of the action in the active voice as you can.

Strong verbs: The best verbs demonstrate action. If you're writing a string of weak linking verbs, think about the action that's happening in your post, then rewrite a new draft using nothing but nouns and verbs in an attempt to better engage your vocabulary.

Attribute sources: If you don't tell your readers where you got your information, many of them will assume that you are just making it up. You aren't, are you? Attribution brings you credibility, because readers know that you've got nothing to hide if they want to check you out.

Contextual hyperlinking: Online narratives should allow readers to "branch off" and click through to other, more detailed, supporting content, depending upon a reader's level of interest. Almost all journalism refers to other sources, but online, a writer has the ability to link readers directly to those supporting sources. Note the URLs of those sources when reporting, and work those into your piece with contextual hyperlinks.

Try to link those URLs to the relevant proper names, keywords and phrases, rather than to the URLs themselves written out, or worse, the over-used "click here."

Use formatting: Break up that boring mass of gray type by using:

One topic per URL: If you are using a contextual ad system on your site, such as Google's AdSense, help the program select the most appropriate ads for your page by limiting each URL to a single topic. Don't write "catch-all" blog entries or discussions covering a wide range of subjects. Build those out on their own, separate URLs and you'll get better targeted ads, and better ad click-through rates.

Easy to read: No block of text more than five lines on the screen.

Spell check: With both an automatic checker and a manual re-read. Beacause no won wants to look like an idiot. ;-)

Online Journalism Review