The way we read and absorb information has changed dramatically over the past decade and I’ve been wondering for the past few days whether the ideal style of writing has changed too.
Ten years ago I was still reading a daily newspaper in print format. While the newspapers and big media organisations had websites, they were semi-peripheral. I remember that BBC News online went down on 9/11 and we had to transfer to the pub opposite to watch on TV. The big name blog and news sites such as Huffington Post didn’t exist yet. There certainly wasn’t a Twitter or a Facebook.
So in general my media intake was pretty simple — and written in one style. It included some pictures and some advertisements but was written to be readable. It didn’t include lots of ‘jumping off points’ in the form of hyperlinks or related content and there weren’t hundreds of tweets pointing me to new pieces of comments on articles to read through.
At the time I felt like it was relatively easy to write for everyone. Whether it was a conference programme, a website or the policy pieces we were writing, the style was pretty straightforward. It was something like that of The Economist or the Guardian Weekend Magazine of the time. Sentences were fairly short, we used speech pretty frequently and were sure to avoid jargon.
But ten years on, following the huge fragmentation that’s taken place, I’m not sure it’s possible to write for everyone any more. There used to be an ‘internet audience’ — now there are a multitude.Â The cacophony of the written word in the internet age makes it harder to write simple, understandable, informative yet entertaining copy. Everything you write has to be for a particular audience and there are very many more audiences than there used to be.