Writing for the Web (all of it): Can Jakob Nielsen and Gawker get along?

Bring the two halves of the brain together to make good web content. 

Bring the two halves of the brain together to make good web content. 

In his 1997 study of how users read online, Jakob Nielsen wrote that web content should be concise, scannable, and objective. If it was, it would increase usability by 214%. 

Now, recent textbooks by Ahava Leibtag and Lynda Felder tell us that we should write with personality.

So, how do we interpret that? Are web pages staid, boring bits of information and blogs run-on opinions? It's like the left brain and the right brain aren't working together. Why can't we all just get along?

We can, as long as we look at a MAP.

Message

What is your content? What does it say? Are you relating a news story? Reviewing a book? Telling people how to apply for a loan? Dumping a bunch of dates and facts on an unsuspecting audience? Your content will determine somewhat how concise, scannable, and objective you should be, and how much personality you inject. 

But being concise never hurt anyone at all.  

Audience

Someone (hopefully) is going to consume your content. Who are they and what are they going to do with it? Do they need urgent help? A welcome distraction? Where are they consuming your content? How much time do they have? The answers to these questions will also help you decide which side of the spectrum you'll need to fall. 

Purpose

Lastly, what are you and your organization trying to accomplish? Are you educating? Entertaining? Selling widgets? Promoting a workshop? Keeping the goal in mind will help your content help you reach it. 

Last Words

There is no set formula for how many headings, bullets, paragraphs, or words make a perfect piece of web content. Just remember that if you analyse the context of the message, audience and medium, and then use your left brain to make your content concise, objective, and scannable, and your right brain to make it engaging, your content will be more successful than if you hadn't bothered. 

And then the next time, you can make it even better.