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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

How the Digital Age is Changing the Way We Write

My son recently asked me, "Do you have every book you've ever owned?" If you look around my house, it's easy to see how he could come to this conclusion.

"We would have to have a much bigger house if I did," I said. The last time I thoroughly cleaned out my book collection, I needed a hand truck to haul my donation into the library. That was about 12 years ago, so I’m due. If I ever convert to a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad, I could conceivably ditch my entire book collection.

The digital age is doing more than revolutionizing the way we buy and keep books and magazines. It's changing the way we write.

Writing is shorter and snappier. No one wants to wade through long introductions. No one has time to wait for the key points of information. No has patience for run-on sentences. Fragments, however, are okay.

Paragraphs are smaller. Remember how you learned in school that paragraphs should have at least five sentences—and that they should never be only one sentence? A five-sentence paragraph is too long for digital media. And the one-sentence paragraph is here to stay.

Bullets, lists, and headings are vital. Watch people reading on their smartphones. They don't read thick chunks of material. They keep scrolling. They're looking for the things that stand out—the stuff in bold or with numbers next to it.

White space is important. Because of the fast-paced, scanning-style of reading that is becoming the standard, a layout that includes plenty of white space is important. Material that's too dense—tiny print, skinny margins, squished paragraphs—is hard to read on a computer or digital device.

Word counts are getting smaller. An average blog post runs about 350 words. I do my best to keep posts under 500. When I was doing regular articles for print media, the word count was 1,500.

"But I'm not writing for the Web," you may say. "I'm working on a novel, and I want it to be published in the regular, old-fashioned way, dead trees and all."

No matter what format you're aiming for—print, blog, ebook, papyrus scroll—chances are at least some portion of it will wind up in digital media.

Writers, are you changing the way you write because of blogs, social media, smartphones, and e-readers? 
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Photo courtesy of Rin Zebram├Ądchen