91 Years Later . . .

The Internet has changed our world and our word. We do not read a page of paper like we read a website, so it makes little sense to write the same way. Back in the 8th grade, I learned writing guidelines that were reinforced with red ink on every paper I ever submitted within any classroom from that moment forward. Come to find out, those writing “rules” came from a book called, “Elementary Principles of Composition,” by William Strunk. These are the principles I adhered to during my career in publishing and they are the same ones I fight against now as a web writer.

Below is a chart I created to update the most commonly known Strunk style guides for writing online:

ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION, William Strunk; 1918

Original for PRINT

Updates for WEB

As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning
1. the topic sentence comes at or near the beginning;
2. the succeeding sentences explain or establish or develop the statement made in the topic sentence; and
3. the final sentence either emphasizes the thought of the topic sentence or states some important consequence.
Scanning makes the concept of the traditional paragraph irrelevant. That’s why I like to say, “copy block.” Scanners need a topic sentence and emphasis of consequence in one sentence or bullet. No time to explain and establish. Because web visitors are not reading, but scanning, topics become heads and subheads and “paragraphs” become bullets or single sentences.
Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic You could instead say “Make the ‘paragraph’ (in our case let’s say “copy”) the unit of the Web Page.” One topic, one copy block, one page.
Use the active voice Preferable, but Passive can be more beneficial for facts and numbers in beginning of sentences and also for SEO phrases at beginning of sentences.
Omit needless words Even more so. Concise language dramatically improves usability.
Avoid a succession of loose sentences, AKA: Run ons Break each concept into bullets. Rarely use “AND”
Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form, Parallel form Holds, but parallel form should correlate between bullets. A sentence with 3 parallels is probably too long to remain a sentence.
Keep related words together (don’t break ideas with clauses) Holds True, but clauses should be avoided altogether.
In summaries, keep to one tense Holds True. Present tense is best unless directly referencing the past.

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2 Comments

  1. That’s a pretty interesting comparison, Rocky. Nice research 🙂

  2. Awesome! This is a great idea! Strunk and White are getting lots of press these days… just saw there somewhere else about grammar advice and how they are not good grammarians.

    No wonder I’m struggling to write: who can tell what style to use? SEO or Strunk and White?

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