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28 March, 2007 - Published 12:13 GMT

How to write stories online

When writing for the web, the most important thing to remember is that your story should be like a dwarf that hasn't had enough sleep - short and snappy.

In general, people will take in the headline, look at the picture and skim over the first few paragraphs - and then decide if they want to keep reading, or click off to something else.

This whole process can take less than a couple of seconds - so you need to both grab the reader and give them everything they need to know straight away.

Essentially, what this means is that you must have all the important information in the first four paragraphs - with the really key stuff (who, what, where, when) in the very first sentence.

"And if the essence of your story is based on an interview, you should have included the best quote by the fifth paragraph," I should add.

Sub-heads break up text

Going into the story, remember that all you have to work with are around 350-400 words for a news piece, and 600-650 for a feature.

This requires an approach so scalpel-sharp, it can make your eye bleed just to look at it.

Writing for online is not like a newspaper. The reader has an infinate amount of things they can click off to the moment they get bored.

So cut out any superfluous detail. There should be less fat than on a marathon-running church mouse during a particularly harsh winter.

Look at how this story is written - single-sentence paragraphs, with clauses frequently linked with hyphens.

If your sentences are short, you can get two per paragraph. But for impact - especially in a comment or feature piece - nothing beats brief, stand-alone phrasing.

Like this, for example.

Two subheads are usual

If you are writing a story based on an interview, there is no need to transcribe the whole thing.

Just pick out the most important quotes, and you can paraphrase the rest. You may well find that what was being said was a load of tedious waffle anyway that the world could well live without reading.

Something particularly juicy, however, can be pulled out in a quotebox. Quoteboxes should appear higher up than the actual quote, to keep the reader interested in continuing reading.

If you find you are struggling to keep your story lean, there are a number of tricks you can do. You can always include a factbox like the one above, or link to other stories that give background.

Being a citizen journalist, you will frequently be writing about issues in your local area and subjects that directly concern you - and therefore it is likely you may feel intensely passionate about it.

But you must remember always to be fair and balanced in your article.

Avoid editorialising - it is for the reader to decide if something someone has said is "sensational" or "outrageous," not you.

And be clear and focused. Do not let your passion for a subject stand in the way of clarity for the reader.

All this may seem a little unnatural at first, especially for journalists more used to luxuriating in the abundant acres of prose available in newspapers.

But after a while, you will find that it becomes second nature.