Writing For The Web – Why Writing For Skimmers Is A Mistake

A fellow writer friend of mine recently wrote a post on simplifying sentences in your writing. I usually love her tips, but this is one that hits a button with me, and I have to write about it. I even told her that I was going to.

In her piece she recommends that people use small words, avoid technical or fancy words, avoid words with multiple meanings and keep sentences short. The reason being that people on the internet want to read fast and skim through, and more complex writing makes that more difficult. Now, her point isn’t incorrect, all her tips will make a piece easier for the internet skimmers to read. My problem lies not there, but in the whole idea of catering to skimmers in the first place.

As far as I’m concerned, the internet is getting dumbed down enough, we don’t need writers thinking that it’s something they should be doing too. It makes me cringe when anyone even suggests that people should write smaller and simpler to cater to people who have neither the time nor the intelligence to read well-written pieces. It’s that kind of mentality that is contributing to the problem of people who can’t manage to consume any piece of writing that’s more than a few paragraphs.

It’s pretty obvious that people are getting dumber and lazier. Just because that’s true doesn’t mean that we, as writers, should change our work to suit them. I believe that we should do our very best every time we write something. I encourage the use of complex sentence structures, uncommon word use and writing more in depth. If we write for the skimmers and less intelligent, it will become ingrained as our way of thinking, and then we become just as bad as they are.

Catering to the masses is simply not the way to go as far as I’m concerned. Especially when the masses are doing something that we don’t want to encourage. It’s like making rape jokes but expecting rape shaming to stop. It doesn’t work. You can’t write for people who can’t be bothered to actually read and then expect society to get any more intelligent or developed. Our writing should be a reflection of what we want to see in the world, not of the lowest common denominatior.

No matter what anyone says, I won’t be simplifying my writing. As a matter of fact, I’ve been meaning to get back into the habit of looking up words you don’t hear much and putting them into my work, just to have them out there in the world. I may have a casual style, but I’m a firm believer in putting out work that makes people take their time and think, rather than offering Lilliputian* portions of information.

I suppose my viewpoint exists because I’m one of those people who’s concerned less with Google and money and more concerned with actually putting out good work. I want to make society better with everything I write, or at least most of it. I want to set an example. That’s important to me. (And please note that I am not trying to insult other writers, just offer them something to mentally chew on.)

In the end, the choice of how you write is up to you. You can cater to the skimmers, or you can write in a way that enriches society. Choosing the first is, in my opinion, contributing to the dumbing down and laziness of society. But that’s my opinion, not the law. There are hard no rules about this sort of thing. Neither way is really right or wrong, it’s a matter for the conscience and pocket of the writer. I just want writers to really think before they make a choice in one direction or the other.


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