Whether it’s writing for your private practice website, starting a new psychotherapy blog, or building exposure by writing guest posts, writing online can be a big boost to your career.
Unfortunately, graduate school doesn’t prepare you for writing for the web. If you write a blog post the same way you write an academic paper, your readers will quickly click away in search of more interesting content.
Fortunately, writing for the web isn’t difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Write Shorter Paragraphs
People have shorter attention spans on the internet. It takes seconds for them to close your page and open another one, and so you have to work hard to keep their attention.
This means that you should write short paragraphs. Long paragraphs look like a chore to read, and tempt the reader to click over to another page that is less demanding. But short paragraphs offer the reader a sense of accomplishment – because every paragraph they finish feels like a success.
In general, you should try to make a new paragraph every 2-4 lines (with the occasional longer paragraph if necessary). You can still write in long chunks if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but then go back and add line breaks whenever one idea changes into another.
Use Section Headings
Section headings help your writing look professional and inviting.
For instance, check out my social skills guide on asking good questions. I split that page into three different sections, and have big section headings to show the reader where they’re at on the page. That makes my guide easier to read, and more visually appealing to boot.
As a general rule, try to have at least 2-3 different section headings on each page or blog post. You can either add the headings in as you write, or go back and add them in after you’ve finished. This will make your writing look more organized and make readers more interested in reading.
Use Bullet Points
Benefits of bullet points:
- They’re easy to skim
- They add visual variety to your posts
- They are an effective way to organize information
The average lay reader doesn’t have a clear understanding of what terms like “Person-Centered orientation” or “psychometrically valid assessment” mean. So avoid using them unless you’re writing for a professional audience.
If you do decide to use technical terms, at least define them. It’s not hard to say “I’m a psychodynamic therapist, which means… [explain your orientation in plain language].” A good rule of thumb is to ask a non-therapist friend to read through your writing and let you know if anything is confusing.
A few images go a long way towards grabbing your readers’ attention. They make your writing look more professional and (more importantly) they help you fight against the constant temptation to click away.
So add photos into your writing. You might include one photo at the top of the article, or sprinkle smaller photos throughout the page.
How do you find images? Well, you need to be careful, because most of the photos you find on Google Images are copyright protected. While it’s unlikely you’ll be caught, you want to be ethical. So it’s important to use images that are legally free for anyone to use.
The easiest way is to use a site like Pixabay.com or Unsplash.com. Both sites allow you to search a big collection of totally free images. If you need more, Google for “attribution free images” or do some research on finding Creative Commons images.
Once you’ve found a good source of free images, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Look for images that relate to what you’re writing about. The connection doesn’t need to be very strong – if you’re going to write an article about mindfulness exercises, you don’t actually need a photo of a therapist teaching someone mindfulness. You could just have a photo of a calm nature scene, or a relaxed person, or something like that.
- Pick images that are appealing to look at. This means that you should choose photos that are high-resolution, not blurry, etc. But this also means that you should avoid images that are shocking or upsetting. If you want to write a post about self-harm, don’t include a photo of someone’s self-harm injury!
- Make sure that your website is visually appealing in general – adding a good image to an ugly website will still result in an ugly website. I’ve written a quick guide on some web design tips for therapists that you can use to spruce up your site’s visual appeal.
The more you write for the web, the more success you’ll find. Nobody is going to read your blog if it only has one post.
So build a writing habit. Marketing guru (and prolific blogger) Seth Godin recommends the following strategy to get you started:
- Start an anonymous blog somewhere – don’t put your name on it. This will give you the freedom to take risks without worrying about the consequences.
- Write ten posts on this anonymous blog. Your posts can be about whatever you want. Experiment with different styles of posts, different topics, etc.
- After you’ve written ten posts, choose if you want to put your name on the blog, keep publishing anonymously, or start a brand-new writing project.
I recommend trying to write all ten posts within a month. This is frequent enough that you can build a habit, but not so frequent that it becomes overwhelming.
You might not feel like a writer. When I started, I definitely didn’t.
But I started anyway.
You have the same opportunity. Your life experience and psychological training are worth sharing. Your words have power.
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