Writing for a small screen: guidelines


Tighter writing

  • No unnecessary words, phrases, sentences or points: include as much information as possible without a reader needing to swipe
  • Be concise: can some quotes be paraphrased? How much background is essential (can it be linked to?)
  • Shorter isn’t necessarily better: longer stories are popular on mobiles.
    e.g. Tyrone Unsworth deserved better (Shannon Molloy, RendezView)
    Bali’s ‘beautiful smuggler’ (News Corp with Cindy Wockner)
    London terror attack witnesses note: 360 photos (News Corp)
    Poison in the system (Buzzfeed News)
  • Short sub-headings (3-4 words) break up text – write sub-heads to set up what’s to come

Short, strong headlines

  • Headlines shouldn’t dominate screen space – a mobile screen has a ‘fold’ in the same way a broadsheet newspaper does. The headline shouldn’t get lost below the fold
  • Short headlines are easily viewed and understood without scanning
  • Use SEO-friendly key words


  • Grab your readers by the short and curlies in your lead
  • Reward them for swiping to read more – don’t be boring


  • Use shorter pars. Longer paragraphs appear much longer on a small screen – four lines on a desktop appears double the length on a mobile
  • For harder news stories, inverted pyramid-style news writing still works – give readers the story in the lead and the first couple of pars


  • A reader’s eye is drawn to photographs and other illustrations over text
  • If an image doesn’t add to or advance the story, don’t use it for mobile


  • A story can have a life beyond its expected one, especially a feature. Example: one tweet

Thinking beyond writing

  • What related content can we give readers?
  • Is there a video that makes sense added to the story? A map? An infographic?

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