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Mar 15 / Ryan Alberti

BR Writer’s Tips: Why Prose Style Matters

On the Internet, form IS content. HOW you write changes the very substance of WHAT you write, because it changes the way readers process and understand your work.

If you want to make a splash, you have to deliver your message in the right kind of style.

And if you want to do that, you have to play by the rules.

Think about the way you read Web content compared to the way you read a novel, or even a magazine article. If you’re like most people, your eyes move much more quickly in an online setting. Internet readers are looking for information they can digest in a short amount of time and with a minimal amount of effort—and it’s your job as a writer to give them what they want.

The bottom line: Keep it simple, even if it means sacrificing a little rhetorical flair.

Concision and clarity are paramount. Long blocks of text and convoluted grammatical forms turn readers off. Short sentences and short paragraphs keep them engaged. To borrow a passage from the Bleacher Report Editor’s Tips

If a sentence makes a particularly important point within the article (or can be modified to do so), set it off as its own paragraph. This strategy makes a piece more readable by making its argument easier to follow.

Remember, most Internet readers read very quickly. To catch and hold their attention, it’s important to create visual and rhetorical breaks (e.g. paragraph breaks and single-sentence anchor paragraphs) within the course of the text.

Like this.

You don’t have to like the fact that the Internet has killed the long paragraph and the complex sentence—but denying the truth won’t make it go away. Prose style matters because you’re writing for an audience, not for yourself. Keeping that audience happy is the best way to get your point across.

And that, of course, is the only goal worth having.

For a clinic in proper sentence and paragraph length, see “Dear Alex Rodriguez…Don’t Blame Derek Jeter,” by Dave Metrick.

For a detailed analysis of Bleacher Report’s stylistic philosophy, refer to the Methodology section of the Editor’s Tips.

For a sense of how to turn principle into practice, take a tour through the Editing Case Study.

For further reading, check out “The 10 Commandments of Internet Writing” from

  • http://N/A Nancy Walker

    I’m new to Bleacher Report, having joined last week. Got sucked in by Larry Burton. And now I’m hooked.

    As a sports ignoramus, I can learn a lot here. Not surprising.

    As a technical writer in my day job, I can also learn a lot. This was something of a revelation. The Style Guide, BR Writer’s Tips, Report Editor’s Tips, and Star-Rating Guide provide clear guidance for both editors and aspiring writers and insight into drafting effective web material. Very useful.

    From what I’ve seen to date, I would say the editorial staff is maintaining the established standards pretty consistently—not an easy job. Keep up the good work, folks. I love it when anyone knows what an em dash is!

    Sincerely, Nancy Walker

  • Ryan Alberti

    I’m glad you’ve found Bleacher Report’s writer resources to be useful, Nancy. If you’re looking to get a more complete taste of the B/R experience, you may also want to check out our Community Forum:

    From one em-dash aficionado to another, here’s hoping we can continue to serve you going forward.

    — Ryan

    Ryan Alberti
    Managing Editor
    Bleacher Report Team