Eleven rules for writing for the web

The Guardian’s four-page spread on Ten Rules For Writing Fiction at the weekend was hugely enjoyable. Margaret Atwood said, ‘Take something to write on. Paper is good.’ Roddy Doyle said do keep a thesaurus – but in the shed where you can’t get at it easily. And Will Self finished on something rude which I won’t repeat here as I don’t want to use a certain M word in my first post.

So inspired by all this, here are our Eleven rules for writing for the web.

1. Oooh, nice briefs

There was an article this week by Copyblogger about avoiding rewrites. If a client asks you to completely overhaul what you’ve written it’s not their fault – it’s yours for not bothering to find out what they wanted in the first place.

2. Break the rules

Now you’ve got a clear brief – in writing – and you know what the client wants you can have the confidence to break the rules. Take a risk. Be more funny. Be more clever. Be more bold. They might like it.

3. Keep your eyes and ears open

If the content on the site you’re writing for changes regularly then use this to your advantage. Read newspapers, watch telly, join in debates, find out what’s going on out there and refer to it. There’s all manner of iJokes you can iMake at the iMoment for example.

4. Radio Ga Ga

Lost for words? Stick the radio on. It’s got thousands of them spewing out every hour. Even better, put on a station you don’t normally listen to. It might just give your creativity the kick up the backside it needs.

5. Love your designer

Good copy and good design go hand in hand. Get in early in the design process and stick your oar in. If the designer just wants to fill the space with Lorem Ipsum dummy text and doesn’t want the copy until the 11th hour, punch them in the face. It’s the only way to get your point across sometimes.

6. Don’t bury the treasure

If you’re vain enough to think people are going to wade through acres of prose to find the point you’re trying to make then you’re in the wrong job. Put the good bits first so readers know exactly what they’re going to get. In other words; front-load your content.

7. Be nosy

What’s everyone else doing? How are competitor sites presenting themselves? What mistakes are they making? How can you do better? But don’t get so influenced you find their phrases working their way into your own copy.

8. Be brief

Oh dear, I’m talking about briefs again. Now, whatever Copify might say, a good copywriter shouldn’t be paid by the word. It’s all about getting your words across succinctly, not offering a 20,000 thesis.

9. Give yourself a deadline

If you have three hours to write a short paragraph it probably won’t be any better than what you could have come up with in half an hour. A more productive use of your time would be: 1) Do it in less time 2) Go away and leave it alone 3) Come back and polish it up.

10. Version control

It's easy to spend time writing and rewriting the same sentence over and over again until you've knocked the bloody life out of the original concept. Got an idea that sort of works? Just leave it there and start again further down the page. You might want to come back to it later. This also gives you the option of presenting the client with different versions of the copy, which can go down well.

11. Go with the gut

Your first responses are likely to be the most accurate. If you have to ask someone ‘does this sound wrong/awkward/libellous to you?’ it probably is.