Writing for Web: Style

Beethoven had style. He was one of the most famous composers and pianists in the world, and I quote a dear friend who said Beethoven was, “the heavy metal of classical music.” This week I attended Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and was inspired to tie in the experience into this week’s topic.

Style is different from grammar. It’s not about comma rules and parts of speech, it’s about consistency and professionalism. Felder advises Web writers to create a style guide or use a well-known one. Which style you use depends on your audience, but I recommend the following:

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (for articles and reviews)

The Chicago Manual of Style (for articles and reviews)

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (for scholarly writing or research-based projects)

The Elements of Style (creative writing or any of the writing types above)

This may seem like a hefty list of sources, but pick one and stick with it. However, proofreaders should be fluent in all of the above to make themselves more marketable and knowledgeable.

So why is style important?

Imagine sitting in the symphony hall. The musicians and chorus members are wearing whatever they could find. Some are in sweatpants, others in gowns, some are wearing bright neon shorts, and others have flashy jewelry. The audience is so distracted by the performers’ attire they are not able to focus on or appreciate the music.

This is what readers experience when reading content with inconsistent style. In one sentence you may see website, in another Web site, somewhere else 7, then seven. If you are inconsistent, your readers will think you are indecisive and unprofessional. Where there are inconsistencies, there is chaos.

Now imagine the symphony hall where the female musicians are in white tops and black bottoms, and the men are in tuxedos. The chorus above them is dressed all in black, and everyone is performing in perfect harmony. You not only have organic flow, but the main focus is the music not the wardrobe.

Most companies need and have a style guide to keep readers focused on the content and product. This also shows you care about the content, therefore, you care about your audience’s ability to understand it.

Another topic Felder discusses is personal style. This is important because you want your readers to connect with you. So, before you start writing, answer these questions first:

1. Will you use text lingo? Will everyone know what the emoticons and acronyms mean?

2. Are clichés okay? What age group are you targeting? Will they understand the meaning if you use them?

3. Is profanity acceptable? Many writers agree this is only okay in creative writing and projects.

4. How will you address your audience? Will you write to them or about them? For example: one must write well in order to succeed OR you must write well in order to succeed.

Once you address the questions and start to create a style guide, you are ready for the world to see your personal style. It doesn’t matter how cool, trendy, or professional you are; if your readers have to work to understand you, they won’t come back. Remember to keep it simple, and make your content the best it can be. We can’t all be Beethoven, but we can show our audiences we care what they think.

One thought on “Writing for Web: Style

  1. Heartily and filled with style, I concur. As a writer, I strive for consistency. As an editor, I am surprised at the lapses that populate many, many high-profile websites. I like “websites.” I have a client who uses “web sites.” Chaos is the only wrong answer. Thanks for your role(s) in keeping it to a minimum.

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