Skip to main content

How to Write Online Content That People Will Read

There are several ways writers can improve their articles.

There are several ways writers can improve their articles.

Tips for Writing Successful Content

"Okay, who is this writer Carola who thinks she is an expert on online writing?" you may be asking. Well, I have been in the trenches as an online writer for a few years. I have worked for several online publications, some of which had strict rules about what was acceptable content. Some of the guidelines for these websites were like crash courses in writing for the internet.

Writers can use certain rules of engagement to captivate readers and make them keep on reading. Here are some lessons I have learned about writing successful online content that people will actually read.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Publishing

While planning an article, ask yourself:

  • Who will want to read this article?
  • What will attract readers and motivate them to read it?
  • What information are readers looking for?
  • What essential information needs to be shared with these readers?
  • How do I make myself more credible in my work?

Determine Your Readership

Writers tend to focus their work on their own facts and opinions instead of recognizing the mindset of people who will be reading their work. Once you have figured out who will be reading your work of art, don’t make assumptions about what your readers know or don’t know.

Any special terms or concepts that keep popping up should be explained at the beginning of the article. Folks won’t get too far into your eloquent discourses if they have no idea what you are talking about.

Do Your Homework

Learn what you can about online writing. There are helpful resources on the Internet or at your bookstore. For example, many publications currently use the Associated Press Stylebook as a guideline.

Using reliable research enriches and validates your content.

Using reliable research enriches and validates your content.

Research Your Articles

Research is the key to an engaging read because:

  • Research tells you what is already out there that will compete with your writing.
  • Using various references increases the credibility of the writer.
  • Some digging helps to identify the needs of readers that may not be met by the content currently on the web.
  • Checking various sources helps creates more balanced and accurate articles.

If the market is saturated with the topic, create a unique spin on the subject that will captivate readers.

Use Reliable Sources

We live in a world where people are skeptical and don’t accept anything at face value. They don’t care about your personal opinion. There are trolls out there who probably have nothing better to do than to find fault with your writing. Be prepared to back up everything you say with reliable resources.

For example, saying: "Many people have a mental illness" is not nearly as credible as citing a statistic with specific numbers of people with mental illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Do whatever you can to establish credibility with the reader, such as adding relevant quotes or facts from well-respected sources. Be sure to include a link to the source you are quoting or list it as a reference at the bottom of the article.

Another way to achieve credibility is to set yourself up as an expert on your topic by stating your credentials. Telling a relevant personal experience story can also enhance your content.

Some dubious websites should not be used as references because they are not reliable or reputable sources of information. User-generated websites are a no-no in many cases, and blogs are iffy unless the blogger is clearly identified as an expert in their field. Some publishers have blacklists of references and don’t allow their writers to use them in their online content.

Deliver What Your Title Promises

A good title is like a carrot dangling before a horse. The title should whet the reader’s appetite for your article's content and deliver what it promises. If you offer a carrot and deliver a lemon, you will disappoint and lose readers fast, leaving them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The points you want to make can get lost in meandering, unrelated stuff, no matter how eloquently they are expressed. Every sentence should have a clear and specific purpose, not a generalized string of words. Articles focusing on specific, topic-related information give readers a satisfying read with the bright orange carrots the title promised.

Planning out your article in advance can help you determine the most important topics to cover.

Planning out your article in advance can help you determine the most important topics to cover.

Avoid Content That Irritates and Turns off Readers

These missteps can send readers away in droves:

Poor English and sentence structure
Poor English erodes the credibility of the writer. Long sentences, for example, are tedious and confusing.

Unreadable fonts and overdone effects
Bolding a phrase here and there is fine, but blocks of bolded text or italics can turn off a reader. Italics are not used often these days because italics are hard to read.

Some publishers ban the use of all caps, saying that only using the uppercase is the same as shouting at the reader. Caps are difficult to read.

Exclamation points
There is little in the world that is important enough to express with an exclamation point. Many exclamation points tell the reader that you are a drama queen or king who needs to get a life.

Long blocks of text
Give me a break. I am a poor over-fifty (way over fifty) who struggles to read anything through bifocals. Big blocks of text will quickly drive my mouse up to the "back" button.

Overdone media
Some publishers allow writers to add pictures, ads, or media. These additions are meant to enhance the content and not distract the reader. They should be simple and attractive. Some huge pictures can be too "in your face" and interrupt the flow of an article.

Check your work after it is published to ensure that adding ads has not changed your layout. If you are entering content through a publishing platform, look for gaps in your design that may make your article look sloppy and amateurish.

Absolute statements

Generalizations are not accurate in every case. There are always people who are exceptions to the rules. Those people will probably be writing to you to say that what you consider to be the truth does not apply to them.

Keep Your Articles Simple and Concise

We writers love words and to wax eloquently about the topics near and dear to our hearts. Our ramblings may sound great to us but may not engage readers who often have limited time and energy. In the good old days, people did their article reading on a leisurely weekend. Nowadays, many people read snippets on their smartphones while on public transportation, have a few minutes at work, or are waiting for an appointment.

We need to craft our articles so that our work is attractive and has short paragraphs that are easy to navigate with headers and subheadings. That way, busy readers can easily find their place again if they leave the page.

Online articles should be tightly written, expressing ideas in fewer words than other mediums such as magazines or newspapers. Do not use a phrase when a word may do the job. For example, many prepositional phrases can be replaced with one word, and unnecessary descriptive words like "very" or "just" can be eliminated.

Limit Use of the Passive Voice

I balked when one publisher told me not to use the passive voice in my articles. How was I supposed to produce “how to” instructions without using "may," "should," and "can?" My editors saw the passive voice as weak. I managed to use active verbs, but I was thankful when my publisher decided that the passive voice was okay under certain circumstances.

Publishers generally like vibrant, active verbs. The passive voice is weaker and less dynamic. Active verbs mean that we need to put the subject first and generally avoid openings like: "Because of this," "This is," or "It is." Non-descriptive verbs such as "seem" or something from the verb group "to be" are weaker than verbs that express actions.

Watch Your Pronouns

Readers tend to scan and skim through articles quickly and will get lost in a sea of pronouns. I know it seems silly and against your writing instincts to constantly repeat a name or noun, but it does help readers to follow your storyline.

Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

Writing is a highly subjective enterprise, and rules can be bent on occasion. If we want to really engage readers and make them hungry for more of our work. However, using these guidelines can help us achieve our goals.

Happy writing! (And I really mean that exclamation point.)

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Carola Finch


Neetu M from USA on April 01, 2018:

Good post, Carola. :)

Marlene Bertrand from USA on September 28, 2015:

These are all excellent tips. I think if we write the way we like to read, we would naturally follow your tips.

Don Colfax from Easton, Pennsylvania on July 10, 2015:

Another fantastic hub!

I have to admit I've been struggling lately, I'll have to put some of this to practice!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 13, 2015:

Research is indeed the key. I am often lazy to search for keywords. I prefer to write what I like but then the traffic is close to nil.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on July 15, 2014:

Thanks, good info.

ologsinquito from USA on June 11, 2014:

These are all excellent suggestions. We really do need to write about what people want to read about, if we want readers. Voted up and shared.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on May 01, 2014:

Hi, Carola,

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this hub. Very well-written. Clean and exacting phrases. Nice use of graphics and appearance.

I voted Up and all of the choices, because you deserved it. You are a very-talented writer. And I respect your work.

I left you some fan mail and became one of your followers.

I cordially invite you to check out one or two of my hubs and become a follower of mine.

That would be fantastic.

Keep up the great work.

Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

kerlund74 from Sweden on March 05, 2014:

Yes it takes some effort to write a great article. Good advices and suggestions here.

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 14, 2013:

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Jatinder Joshi from Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada on September 13, 2013:

Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

Rachel Horon on September 13, 2013:

You have hit all of the points I would consider as a reader and a writer. It really annoys me when I try to read an article and the writer could not be bothered to use good grammar or strong facts. A writer's work is a reflection of them. Thanks for this resource.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 13, 2013:

This is a very important issue for writers--to have people write what they read. You gave really good suggestions.

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 12, 2013:

Thanks for your feedback.

ologsinquito from USA on September 12, 2013:

Yes, we have to write for the readers, or else we won't have any. Great article.