Skip to content

How Magazine Writers Can Adapt to Writing on the Internet

2009 August 26

Magazine writers are some of the most talented people I have had the pleasure of working with.  However, most find it hard adapting to writing on the internet.  Many eventually do succeed and find that they enjoy the new medium; some others never really get the hang of it, while still others just accept the reality and plod through.

Whatever a writer’s particular inclination, here are some points that can help:

Cut up the text: On the internet, people tend to scan more than they read.  They will avoid large blocks of text.  Making paragraphs smaller and adding frequent sub-heads can help the reader digest material with more ease, at a faster pace and with better comprehension.  Magazine writers need to alter their style for the new medium.

Understand entry points: While most magazine writers understand entry points in print, (i.e. charts and sidebars), the concept takes on a whole new meaning in Digital Media. While a magazine is generally read from front to back, and the cover is always seen before the content, the internet is in 3D.  The audience can come from any direction or context.

Often, less than half of the audience ever goes to the home page.  People might get to your article through search engines, links from other sites, etc.  The “landing page” could be anywhere, so every page is a potential entry point.

Understand the important relationships that your writing creates: While, a magazine article is a closed system, an internet document has relationships to other documents both locally and globally.  An article can be much more important for what it leads the reader to than for what it actually says.  There are a variety of ways you can take advantage of these new possibilities:

–          Link to reference sources:  On the internet, you can share your research as well as your ideas with your reader.  Your most loyal readers will appreciate your thoughts even more if you give them some insight into how you arrived at them.

–          Create Content Clusters: By building a series of related content and reference resources you can link them to your article.  This will enable you to weave different aspects and thoughts on a subject into a single body of work (as an ancillary benefit, this also helps search engines find what you write).

–          Write shorter articles: Even a very short article can be useful and engaging if it leads interested readers to other valuable content.  The typical five page feature doesn’t do well on the internet (people usually print them).

Treat links like they were ads: Marketers love to ad links to the page.  They drive traffic around the site and increase page views.  However, links are like ads – they can liven up the page if kept to a reasonable level, but too many defeat the purpose of a user coming to the page.  Links shouldn’t overwhelm the content.

Make sure that every link has a reason to be there.  Also, try to make the links relevant to the article by effectively using tags and other metadata.  Again, think about relationships between information.  That’s what the web is about.

Watch your metrics: In Print media, journalists are supposed to concentrate on writing, with very little access to audience research.  There are periodic ratings for the product as a whole, some letters from readers and the occasional qualitative focus group, but that’s about it.

Online readers give you instant feedback and you can’t afford to ignore it.  You don’t have to become a statistician overnight, but you will have to master some basics so that you can understand what your audience is trying to tell you.

Get comfortable with interactivity: A few years ago, my wife and I found a poor, sick, two-week old puppy in Tbilisi, Georgia.  We fell in love with him, brought him home and treat him as part of the family.  We even talk to him!  It’s great having him around, but I‘m not sure how I would feel if one day he talked back…

On the internet, the dogs talk back (and some of them bite!).  Many magazine writers aren’t used to being so accessible to their audience.  Some writers appreciate the feedback, but others find it jarring and hurtful.  In either case, interactivity is here to stay so this is something that you’re just going to have to get used to.

I hope this has been helpful.  Good luck!

– Greg

22 Responses
  1. August 27, 2009

    Interesting article and some useful advice…but aren’t you using Times New Roman?

    Greg Reply:

    Vannessa,

    Actually it’s not Time New Roman, but it is a Serif font. I use it because it came with this template and I really didn’t have a choice. On the other hand the template is generally very readable, so I was willing to overlook this one drawback. There are no absolutes, I mainly mentioned this point because it is exactly the opposite of in Print.

    Also, sorry for the late reply, for some reason you got caught in spam.

    – Greg

  2. August 28, 2009

    Some cool tips – thanks again Greg.

  3. Katya permalink*
    August 29, 2009

    The last remark is a good one. When I was researching the topic of writing for web it didn’t say anywhere that people commenting the article can be a problem for a magazine writer. In practice it turned out exactly this way.

    Greg Reply:

    Except, of course, in this instance.

    – Greg

  4. Pattie permalink
    August 30, 2009

    This gives me some points to start from

    Greg Reply:

    Glad to hear it:-))

  5. September 4, 2009

    Great article, Greg. I wish I had thought of writing it. I am going to send this URL to my clients.

    Michelle Hutchinson
    Wordhelper Professional Editing
    http://www.wordhelper.com

    Greg Reply:

    Michelle,

    Thanks.

    Greg

    Aad J. M. Lips Reply:

    Hi Michelle,

    Looking at your website http://www.wordhelper.com, I realized that Greg has left out an important peace of advice: layout.

    Sentences that stretch the entire width of the (wide) screen are pretty hard to digest. Like the large blocks of text that Greg already mentioned, readers tend to avoid ‘threatening’ layouts like the one you use on your site.
    So try using columns in your webpages.

    The layout is the first contact readers have with your content. So make it inviting to read. Your best writing won’t be read if the layout turns your reader off.

    Aad J. M. Lips – Dutch copywriter

    Michelle Hutchinson Reply:

    Thanks for the tip, J.M. Another important piece of advice is: Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Thus, your sentence that reads, “…I realized that Greg has left out an important peace of advice…” should have had “peace” spelled as “piece.”

    Michelle Hutchinson
    Professional Editor and Proofreader

    Aad Lips Reply:

    You’re absolutely right, Michelle, and I won’t hide behind the fact that Dutch is my native tongue. I should have noticed this BEFORE I sent my reply.

    Aad Lips

  6. September 9, 2009

    You’ve completely ignored the real issue magazine writers are struggling with, namely that websites pay 1/10th (or less) of what print pays. Changing fonts and chopping up paragraphs won’t change that in the least.

    Greg Reply:

    Julie,

    You’re right, I did ignore that issue and, if you’re a writer, I’m sure that is what is most important for you.

    Nevertheless:

    1. I try to focus each post and that requires that I leave out important issues in ALL posts, not just this one. Although I understand that it can be frustrating when I gloss over an issue that you feel is crucial, there really is no way around it.

    2. The reason writers find it difficult to earn money on the web is that publishers run their digital businesses so poorly. My next post is about how publishers can be more successful in the digital world. Hopefully, that will help. (The post will be up later today)

    3. Nobody ever paid me a penny for anything I wrote. It’s probably better that I stick to what I know:-))

    – Greg

  7. Joanie Wexler permalink
    September 29, 2009

    Very useful and practical read, Greg. Many thanks!!

    Greg Reply:

    Joanie,

    I’m glad you liked it!

    – Greg

  8. September 29, 2009

    What JJ fails to see is that many of us magazine writers are being forced to write for a magazine-related web site also. No more pay, but it helps if it’s good.

  9. October 20, 2009

    Useful article. I’ve been a freelancer writing magazines and books in several fields since 1968. I haven’t exactly been resisting writing for the web, but more like ignoring it, as the money is so far below rotten as to be asinine.

    Possibly your ideas can help there. I’ll be bookmarking your site.

    Thanks.

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks, Charlie. Good luck!

    – Greg

  10. supriya iyengar permalink
    November 9, 2009

    Hi Greg

    I do a bit of freelance and this article was insightful in a lot of respects- the main being the segregation between print and digital media writing. Also, a market like India has immense scope with respect to digital media being a medium and content writing.

    Greg Reply:

    Supriya,

    Yes, as I understand India is amazingly diverse.

    – Greg

  11. November 9, 2009

    Greg,

    The article is great, as far as it goes. What I really need now is some instruction on how to live on $10-$20 an article from Internet writing, versus the $350 to $3,000 I got from magazines.

    After 40+ years of freelancing fairly high on the hog, I’m not really all that interested in chomping on pig’s feet, pickled or not.

    Still, I’ll pass your link along for listing in my association’s newsletter (National Association of Home & Workshop Writers), and stick it in my LinkedIn group of similar name. It most definitely is useful.

Comments are closed.