How to write for the 21st century

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

The introduction of Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we write in the 21st century. Its 140-character (now 280) character limit challenges writers and communicators to be pithier. The condensed format has shortened our collective attention span which makes us crave smaller and smaller chunks of information to process at a time. This new writing style requires a new way of communicating and to help you we have compiled five tips to help you break from tradition and keep your readers digitally stimulated.

1) Remove the wind

Traditionally a sentence has between 30-40 words. Today, it is more than ok to write a sentence that consists of 25 words or less. That’s about how many words can fit into a tweet. Not only that, but your writing will be stronger when you strive to keep it brief.

For example, you may write, “We are seeing that quarterly sales are down because…” but you need to be more be direct. Instead, craft your sentence to say: “Quarterly sales are down because...”.

On digital platforms, the sooner a reader gets to your point, the better. You don’t need to be longwinded to make an impactful point.

2) The bullet is your friend

Shorten sentences by using bullets. Every grammar teacher ever will disagree but writing for the digital age requires brief copy that can be easily digested while scrolling.

3) Fragmented

Sentence fragments have become acceptable. It’s a bit like writing a stream of consciousness. The use of dashes and ellipses in your message can still get your point across clearly while presenting it more compactly.

4) Pare the paragraph

Don’t be married to the traditional four or five sentence paragraphs. Digital writing should strive for no more than three sentences per paragraph. A shorter paragraph is more likely to grab a reader’s eye and help reduce the perceived workload of reading your article or post.

If you struggle to know where to make a break, find transitional words like however, furthermore or also and start something new there. Smaller segments are often more engaging.

5) Remember your audience

The above advice won’t always apply. Most business writing and media don’t subscribe to these ideas. The Globe & Mail, for example, offers longform articles on the weekend that are well-researched and informative. Subscribers enjoy them because they have the time on a weekend morning to dedicate to a comprehensive story.

There is certainly a time and a place for both short and long form content. It just depends on your audience. But, to be concise and pithy is never a bad thing, especially for digital-only platforms.

Success is achieved in the edit. It might feel ruthless to slash your work, but it will improve the digital experience for your readers and clients and keep them engaged longer. Cut the filler and get to the point. It’s the 21st century way.


© 2019 Harris Greenaway Communications | Canada