We use lots of specific conventions to scaffold the voice outlined in the previous section. These conventions are part of HowStuffWorks — they allow us to create articles that are clearly part of the site while retaining some of the flavor of the author’s creativity.
Longer, more in-depth articles often need to build on a framework of background information. For example, an article that explains the concept of iterative evolution needs to establish what evolution and natural selection are. Call attention to exactly why the concept is necessary so the reader doesn’t view it as extraneous.
It’s also important to present background information in a way that’s fresh and new rather than duplicating the same content in multiple articles. Don’t simply lift a description you’ve found elsewhere, even if it’s a description you wrote for another article.
Sometimes, technical terminology can cause an article to feel dense and more difficult to read. Keep this in check by defining industry jargon on first use and making sure your sentences and paragraphs don’t meander.
Shorter paragraphs also can be helpful when writing for the web. Because they’re easier for readers than a long block of text, Google also rewards shorter paragraphs when ranking content for organic search.
Comparing a complex idea to a common, real-world object can make it much easier for a reader to visualize what’s going on. Analogies are common teaching tools because they help people understand difficult subjects. Surprising and inventive analogies also add humor and fun to an article.
This is true even if you feel like you’ve given a solid, step-by-step explanation of the process you’re describing. In “How Body Armor Works,” for example, the author describes how a Kevlar vest stops a bullet by comparing it to the way a soccer net stops a ball:
To see how this works, think of a soccer goal. The back of the goal consists of a net formed by many long lengths of tether, interlaced with each other and fastened to the goal frame. When you kick the soccer ball into the goal, the ball has a certain amount of energy in the form of forward inertia. When the ball hits the net, it pushes back on the tether lines at that particular point. Each tether extends from one side of the frame to the other, dispersing the energy from the point of impact over a wide area.
At the same time, be careful not to get lost in extended metaphors that don’t add to the article.
Often, difficult concepts are easier to understand when presented as a step-by-step process or a bulleted list. Turning a paragraph into a bulleted list also can make a page more concise and easier to follow. Multiple bulleted lists on a page, however, can make a reader scan the article rather than read it, so be careful not to overuse them.
If the bulleted list item is a complete sentence, capitalize it and use end punctuation. Make sure to follow parallel construction for each list item.
Please do not use transition sentences between sections or pages unless necessary for reader comprehension. Do not direct readers to “see the next page” nor refer to “the image above/below” as templates can change.
When writing an SEO or target keyword article, refrain from linking on any instances of that exact target keyword throughout the story. Instead, bold the first instance of the target keyword.
Use sidebars for cool facts about the subject matter or interesting information that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the overall angle of the article. You’ll often see these labeled as “Now That’s Interesting” at the end of an article, but you can swap out “Interesting” for a different adjective to mix it up. Sidebars should be no more than one paragraph long. Because of the page layout, quizzes do not have editorial sidebars.
If there’s a particularly good quote that you’d like to draw attention to and that will run multiple lines, please feel free to use block quote styling. Block quotes can be a good way to break up sections, too.
HowStuffWorks’ content management system allows you to embed tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as videos from YouTube and Vimeo. If there’s a contextual reason to include a social embed, please feel free to suggest one. Note that HowStuffWorks would only include embeds to reflect a broader consensus or amplify a point, never to make fun of someone or something. Social embeds can also help to break up lengthy sections.