Get to the point, include hypertext elements and promote interaction between authors and readers
By Hassel Fallas
The birth of the Internet completely changed technology and also the way we communicate in written. The inclusion in the text of three elements –three of Internet’s children—broke with the language which was traditional when writing:
– Multimedia Element: the ability to tell stories simultaneously combining text, audio, video, and graphics.
– Hypertext Element: the possibility for a document to host others through hyperlinks for the reader to go to one or more additional texts, images, and sounds to enhance your background on the information which interests you.
– Interaction: a feature which enables the reader to play an active role in communication. The reader decides which order to follow when reading, partakes in forums, broadcasts messages, comments, and replies to the published contents.
All of these elements –or at least one of them—must be part of digital writing, which demands going to the point, being fast and effective because of the device in which we read.
“The speed of reading on the screen is some 25% slower than on paper, thus the reader of electronic text, particularly if not used to this type of medium, tends to skip words,” asserts Javier Diaz-Noci, a pioneer in the research of online journalism in Europe, in his book La escritura digital [Digital Writing].
In the United States, readers of a traditional newspaper always read through what they start, as compared to 11% of those who read in a digital format, according to a study led by Carole Rich, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
That is why those reading in the Web dedicate less time to this exercise, scan documents, and choose key words or paragraphs where the information they need is located, according to research by Jakob Nielsen and Poynter University (Florida).
“When scanning the text, the user decides whether something interests him or not, and whether he comments, shares, or copies it. That is the reason for writing in the Internet to be brief, with short paragraphs, and clear and direct ideas. Even though there are exceptions, the length of pieces should not be over 600 words,” answers –to a question by Áncora—Rosalia Orozco, director of the Training Center in Online Journalism at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico).
It is advisable to include bullets and boldface to emphasize key words in the paragraphs, but excesses must be avoided.
Toñi Ricoy, an advisor on online communication and a professor at the University of Alcalá de Henares (Spain), also advises eliminating temporary references and localism.
“They can read us at a different time zone or on another date. Many times, we must flee from references such as ‘tomorrow’ or ‘yesterday’, and we must work more with exact dates. Also, we must use a more international Spanish, thinking about global reach,” says Toñi Ricoy.
Ricoy believes that these characteristics, plus the immediacy ruling in the Internet, encourage colloquialism in writing. It is not bad, but limits must be observed. “In the Internet, words are not carried away by the wind, they leave marks. Let’s be straight, but not excessively informal, particularly when answering to comments in a medium, a social network, or in a forum,” she advises.
Include Key Words in the Title. We wanted to use the headline “Write with the Pyramid and the Robots in Mind”, but one of the basic rules to write in the Web asks not overusing metaphors and other literary figures, no matter how simple they may be.
Why? Because of the search engine optimization (SEO), one of the most relevant changes brought about by the Internet in the way of thinking and expressing writing.
All of us want our texts to be among the first options displayed by the search engine when somebody’s query is related to our topic.
The SEO consists in attaining that location. Among other ways, it is attained when the person writing the headline or the title of the document uses keywords in it; the ones that would be used by any reader searching some particular information.
As an example, it is more likely for a Costa Rican football fan searching for news about his team to enter “Barcelona” or “Barcelona FC”, instead of “Azulgranas” or “Barça”.
Then, the headline “Barcelona beats Real Madrid two nil”, would work better than: “Azulgranas Beat Merengues in Pitched Battle”.
With the Google Trends tool, the most common terms used in a search on a particular topic can be found and their weight can be assessed to use them as keywords in a document of global reach or for a given country.
The pyramid mentioned is the inverted one, recommended by communication experts in digital communication. It is beneficial to spin the discourse for the Internet, as long as some of the three elements typical of this language are included.
Write Following the Inverted Pyramid Model. In its traditional form, this model consists in starting the text by telling the conclusion: the most relevant information that answers to the questions who, what, where, when, why and how (the 6 W). Next the data with the lesser relevance are developed.
“The inverted pyramid remains valid and it is more essential than ever; but it is not the classic idea but a structure in which we will incorporate ingredients that enhance it, links, graphics, multimedia elements and others which catch the reader’s attention and help him,” Toñi Ricoy explains in detail.
That’s why the pyramid revamped for the Web does not tell the story three times: in the headline, the lead paragraph, and the body, says Guillermo Franco in Cómo escribir para la Web [How to Write for the Web].
Thanks to hypertext, this writing outline was freed from repetitions and overcomes one of the major limitations on paper, points out Ramon Salaverria, a professor at the University of Navarra.
“We can build discourses with a unique structural wealth. This is not an obstacle to underline the usefulness and propriety of including, in the starting node of those hypertexts, an informative summary –in the fashion of a summary leading paragraph—which enables the reader to grasp a general idea of the whole. It is obvious that the reader will only venture in a journalistic hypertext if he is previously provided with some basic data which stimulate his thirst for learning more,” he points out in his book Redacción periodística en Internet [Journalistic Writing in the Internet].
In addition to the old pyramid, there are two other types which are useful to organize the information destined to the Internet.
The Lineal Pyramid Thematically Divided. This one presents, in the leading paragraph, the main topic and sets forth the subtopics of the text through subtitles. “The subtitle must be a phrase with full meaning, which tells the reader what he may find in the following paragraphs,” Franco suggests.
If through the subtitles independence of the texts is achieved, a non-lineal reading is created, which enables choosing one’s own reading route and to become informed.
The Pyramid of Third Use Level. Guillermo Franco explains that each subtopic here contains its own inverted pyramid. Without drifting away from the general context of the topic, the subtopic holds by itself.
The goal of that model is to make the writer produce ever shorter and coherent texts, says Jakob Nielsen in his article Inverted Pyramids in the Cyberspace. “The whole job would look more as a set of pyramids floating in the cyberspace than as a traditional article,” adds the researcher.
Since nothing is written on stone, even if it is in the virtual world, other theoreticians pose new writing outlines.
“One of the most recent models is the ‘iceberg’. On the surface only the initial node of the information shows, while the bulk of the news remains hidden until the reader decides to immerse himself and find the major information, including that in the shape of hypertexts,” Andrea Donofrio, a doctor in Information Sciences at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a researcher at the Ortega-Marañon Foundation, told La Nación.
What has not actually changed nor will change in the Internet is the need to always write making proper use of the language; otherwise, how would we understand one another?
The author is a journalist and she is working towards a Master’s Degree in Online Journalism at the University of Alcala de Henares, Spain.