I advocate a reader-centric approach to writing on the Internet. For me, reader-centric writing has specific meaning. It is writing that assumes you have a reader and not a user. It assumes you have to use different styles of writing to impact all of these audiences appropriately. To do this, you need to be able to write in four styles: (1) persuasion-centric, (2) quality-centric, (3) instruction-centric, and (4) user-centric. Each is important in its way.
Persuasion-Centric writing in digital media
Suppose you are trying to sell a $4,000 camera on the internet. Do you suppose a user–centric model will work by itself? Or do you think you would need to meet the needs of a collection of different individuals.
We don’t have any camera stores with informed sales people where I live, so I bought that $4,000 camera based entirely on information I gleaned from the Internet. Then a $1,400 lens for it, and an $1,800 lens and an $1,100 lens (plus accessories). Then I bought another $1,400 camera to round out the system. That is $10,000 worth of purchases (including accessories) based entirely on information gleaned from the Internet.
To sell this equipment to me and to people like me, you have to provide me with all of the information I need (so it will be long), and you need to do it exceptionally well, and you need to do it persuasively. I call that “persuasion-centric writing. Excellent persuasion-centric writing is characterized by its persuasiveness and its length (it will be as long as it needs to be to persuade).
Quality-centric writing in digital media
This is writing that depends entirely on its quality to keep readers engaged. Go to YouTube and you will see it at its best and worst. There are videos on YouTube that go for 2 hours but keep their readers (viewers) engaged, and there are videos you leave within the first 60 seconds. Quality of information and presentation keeps you engaged — if you are interested in the content. Quality-centric writing is typically entertaining (e.g., a novel, a movie, a documentary, article, chapter, whitepaper, reviews etc).
Instruction-centric writing in digital media
is new for me . . . I used to merge it into Quality-centric, but I think it has its own space in writing styles.
This writing can also be extremely long (e.g., textbook, online textbook, online class, etc.). In some senses, this class is an example of instruction-centric writing. Tutorials and instructional reviews fit into this style as well.
User-centric writing in digital media
User-centric writing is designed to get the reader to what he or she needs as quickly as possible. It provides information in short snippets, and bulleted or numbered lists. This writing style will dominate navigation pages, while the other styles will be found on the content pages. Usability gurus will say the whole site needs to be written in this manner — obviously, I don’t agree.
There are probably other writing styles I haven’t found yet. Or these styles may be broken into smaller segments I don’t understand yet.
Problem with writing styles on the Internet–with examples
The overwhelming problem with all of these different writing styles is that on the Internet they appear in genres we don’t recognize or understand, and the genres are often segmented into broken genres that are often scattered across the page.
If you look at a typical Amazon.com page, you can see this problem universally.
At the top, you will find about half a specification sheet. Surrounded by different kinds of menus.
Further down the page you will find some more of the spec sheet. This material is (and should be) written entirely in a user-centric style.
Further down the page is the product description. This is usually written in a user-centric style, but this is where you sell your product and it should be written in a persuasion-centric style.
Finally, you will find reviews. Some will be instruction-centric and some will be quality-centric.
In the end, the page closes with user-centric material.