Do you feel like your writing is rigid – almost like you’ve written an essay that’s more about your thoughts and not about the reader? I struggled with this feeling a lot when I got into content writing. Every time I wrote something, it gave me essay-like vibes, which meant I had to do something fast to become a better writer.
But I learned my lesson the hard way. It took me a lot of of studying others’ work to understand what it was that was lacking in my writing. That’s when I realized, I was doing what my teachers taught me – not what internet readers prefer to read.
This realization made me draw strict lines between essay writing and writing for the web. And this is what this blog post is about – it shares the differences between the two types of writing so you can instantly improve your writing.
I’ve also packed in a checklist for how to become a better writer:
See you on the other end!
How to become a better writer – give up essay writing
Let’s dig into the meat of the matter already:
1. Essay and internet writing both have different structures
An intro, a body, and a conclusion that’s how essays roll. I’m positive you know this by heart as I do, We’ve grown up studying our English teacher’s expressions as she went from the intro to the conclusion – looking for signs of whether she liked it or not.
On the web though, you can kiss this rigid structure goodbye and experiment with different styles. You could keep a real short intro and no concluding lines as listicles typically do. Or, as in this piece by Atlassian:
Or, you could keep both the intro and wrap up short and include a body of 300 words max and let an infographic do all the explaining.
The options are numerous, all boiling down to one thing: your reader’s preference.
2. Introductions are different too
With Essays, introductions are more about setting the space, teasing the reader with minor details that promise they’ll learn something good later on.
On the web though, introductions are battlegrounds for gaining readers’ attention – you either win or lose, there’s rarely an in between. It’s the intro where your reader decides if he wants to continue reading.
3. Essays are needlessly wordy but online content is to the point
Essays are long-winded. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:
However, if you post writing inspired from these essays online, you’ll hear nothing but crickets. No appreciation or applause.
It’s because people don’t have the time or attention span to read such detailed commentary. They want their answers and that’s all. And, if they can get those from Google’s featured snippets, they wouldn’t even click past to a single entry on the page.
Even when they do click to read your content, they’d expect it to be to the point. No long intros or personal musings. Only solid answers and your experiences (even if your piece is a long-form guide).
4. Essays are best when they fill pages with words from left to right, but online content is different
Let me tell you a secret: a lot of students in my college knew the hack to scoring high on essays. Know what that was? Fill pages after pages and you’ll pass with flying colors.
But, is that advisable for the blog posts you write? Certainly not. Online, visitors leave web pages in 10-20 seconds. This means you only have 10 seconds at most to give them a reason to stay.
Follow these tips to hold their attention:
👉 Tell them a story – our brains are sucker for stories so they read them till the end
👉 Tell them what your page covers. This way the reader will stay for the answer he’s looking for
👉 Make things visually interesting. Example, add an infographic to speed up your reader’s learning
You can also use the inverted pyramid technique to present the most important information first to draw in your readers.
5. Essays depend on heavy vocabulary, but writing for the web is about writing simple
The more advanced your vocabulary, the more you’re considered educated. And funny thing is, I loved learning new words everyday just so I could prove I was a learned writer.
Overtime, however, I’ve learned that’s not how writing online works. If you want to be a better writer, aim to use simple words, not big words. Why? Because you want your reader to understand you. You don’t need a colorful word bank for that.
6. Just like vocabulary, grammar rules tend to be strict with one but lax with another
Essay writing focuses a lot on grammar – it has to be on point to prove you’re literate. But don’t let grammar hold you back from writing on the internet.
Sure, your grammar needs to make sense, but you can always rely on an em dash to emphasize a point. No commas needed. You can also start sentences with ‘because.’ Because your goal is to write like you talk, so you can converse with your readers.
7. Essay writing is diplomatic, writing for the web is honest, straightforward talk
In history class, I remember my teacher’s eye going wide, a nerve popping on his large forehead, as he emphasized:
“Remember Masooma, you answer by first giving some background information in the intro. Then present one or two arguments in favor of the question, followed by an argument or two against the statement. In the end, give a balanced conclusion.”
And, I’d wonder: how am I even tell the examiner if I agree with this or disagree with it if I’m going to present arguments both in favor and against?
Do this with when you’re writing for the web and the reader won’t give you a second chance because you’re basically dilly-dallying and confusing him.
8. Essays tend to be repetitive, internet writing is clear, fluff-free
Most essays that drag on for pages tend to have repeat arguments. And, trust me, the examiner wouldn’t even know if you repeated your points because who remembers what you wrote on page 2 by the time they reach page 22.
In contrast, when you write online, you need to be succinct in your arguments. Each paragraph (no longer than 4 lines) discusses only one idea. So, brevity is your best friend here.
9. Essay writing focuses on your arguments but online writing is audience-centered
When I wrote essays in college, I was concerned with all but one thing: making sure my thoughts were on paper. The reader, you ask? I didn’t care. Neither does any other essayist.
But, if you try and replicate this on the internet, you’re bound to fail as a marketer. Because writing online is basically talking to your reader. If your reader feels your piece isn’t conversing with them, they’re likely to close the tab and never return again. Ouch.
Take home message
The first thing you need to give up if you want to become a better writer today is give up essay writing – something we all cling to as creatures of habit.
Aim for giving interesting info in the first few lines or tell a story to hook your reader. Forget about the structure. Only focus on the reading experience. And use simple language. You aren’t delivering a business seminar to CEOs. You’re talking to another human, so talk like you’d talk to him in person.