Jamie Harper

Jamie Harper

Spend days duking it out with synonyms, sometimes for global brands.

What school didn’t teach you about writing for the web


Rainy playtimes.

School dinners.

Exams in unfathomably chilly sports halls.

Your most vivid memories of school will probably last a lifetime. But the biggest legacy of your academic years is your writing technique. Because the classroom is where you were taught how to find your way around one of the most complex and expansive languages on the planet.

Pretty awesome, really.

The thing is, education naturally nudges you towards an academic writing style. And the language of academia just isn’t a good fit for the web. So here, have these: four tips to help you sail happily in the clear waters of the www.

One more thing before we start...

If you’re dubious that your academic years were the biggest influence on your writing, here’s something to ponder. From primary school to university; from the textbooks you studied to the feedback scrawled on your essays, academic language was reinforced and rewarded every day of your many years in education. And not just any years; the most formative years of your life.

Ever wondered why some corporate giants have marketing material that is so stiff? It’s because it’s either written or signed off by the executives who work there. And hitting exec-level inside a corporate giant usually requires something akin to an Ivy League education, where you are utterly immersed in the lingo of the academic world.

So how do you redraft your writing for the web?

Rule #1: Swap verbosity for clarity

Academic texts are awfully wordy. Sometimes they have to be - niche subjects require technical language. But some academic writers don’t half overegg it, oblivious to the fact that their painstakingly crafted prose is about as clear as a puff of chalk from a blackboard eraser.

Online readers demand clarity. It’s about making your point as clearly and simply as you can. Blame paper-thin attention spans, or the oceans of content vying for your reader’s attention. But no one is going to hang around to try and interpret your vague writing unless you have forged a serious bond of loyalty with them. Write so a child can understand it. That’s the adage.

Swap brawn for brevity

Forget long paragraphs, the web wants brevity. Be concise.

Swap prose for poetry

Nobody’s suggesting that you start writing your blog posts in rhyming couplets. But if you can tap in to the rhythm and romance of language, your reader will come along for the ride. Copy that’s lightly sprinkled with imaginative similes and metaphors is way more fun than yawn-bringing mundanity. Be creative. Attack your point from an unexpected angle. Your duty is to engage your reader. You don’t have to summon the spirit of Emily Brontë or William Wordsworth to make it happen. 

Swap formality for friendliness

A simple observation: academic writing is pretty formal, web writing is more chatty. Of course the tone you apply to your writing will always depend on context, but as a general rule you should aim to write it how you would say it. The care-free patter of a morning natter.

Address your reader directly (it would be rude not to). Use simple language that removes the barriers between you and your reader (therefore can sound pretty hoity-toity when so gets the job done). And don’t be afraid to spike your copy with a little personality. It will be far more enjoyable to read.

The best tip we can offer? Always remember your reader.

If you have any questions, qualms or queries about your digital content, give us a whirl. Our copywriters are climbing the walls.

Jamie Harper

London Design Works.

Communication pervert with BA (Hons) in English Language Studies and 1.25 million words in the portfolio. Spend days duking it out with synonyms, sometimes for global brands. Spend downtime wondering what kind of hands the person who invented shrink wrap has.

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