Interact/Writing for the Web

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Course Number: F-200

Course Description

This course will introduce students to the essentials of writing and editing text for the web. Topics covered include writing for efficient reading; editing print content for web use; optimizing web content for search-engines and their users; finding the appropriate voice and tone for each project; writing good page titles, headlines, “alt” text, and link text; and writing “interface copy.” Students will draft and edit a variety of content pages and revise previously written print copy for use on the web.


Prerequisites

Recommended Textbook(s)

Recommended Reading

General Writing on the Web

Editing and Rewriting

Content Strategy

Technologies Required

  • Desktop or laptop computer connected to the internet
  • A word processing application like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Pages, or OpenOffice
  • A bare-bones text editing application like TextEdit or Notepad

Competencies

Topic Competency Evaluation Methods
Theory
  • Define the terms “web writing,” “content,” “content strategy,” and “information architecture”
  • Class blog entry (or discussion list post) #1
  • Discuss the ways in which “web writing” relates to other web design and development disciplines
  • Summarize the relationship of web content to accessibility, usability, and findability
  • Describe a user-centered approach to web writing and contrast this approach with other common writing practices
  • Class blog entry (or discussion list post) #2
  • Discuss and differentiate voice, tone, and style as they apply to web writing
  • Class blog entry (or discussion list post) #3
  • Outline the unique challenges facing web writers
  • Class blog entry (or discussion list post) #4
Planning
  • Define the primary and secondary purposes of web content on each page of a Web site
  • Assignment: What Does it Do?
  • Identify a target audience and reading level for specific websites and pages
  • Develop and work with simple user personas
  • Assignment: Who Is it For?
  • Select an appropriate voice and tone for a web content project
  • Assignment: Who Does it Sound Like?
  • Create a list of keywords for possible inclusion in web content
  • Class blog entry (or discussion list post) #5
  • Plan a simple web writing project, including content structure and information sources
  • Assignment: Final Assignment
Writing & Editing
  • Rework existing copy from print sources for web use
  • Assignment: Print to Web
  • Draft concise, audience-appropriate, web-friendly body copy and headings
  • Assignment: Final Assignment
  • Write effective link text, alt text, and image captions
  • Assignment: Final Assignment
  • Develop helpful, brand-appropriate “interface copy” and navigation labels
  • Assignment: Final Assignment
  • Mark up content pages semantically using XHTML
  • Assignment: Final Assignment
  • Revise copy to increase clarity, streamline copy, refine purpose, and ensure consistency of voice, tone, and style
  • Assignment: Final Assignment

Assignments

Class Blog Posts

Your instructor will indicate whether your short assignments should be posted to a class blog, to a discussion list, or to courseware like Blackboard. Whatever the format, your posts should comprise 2-5 paragraphs and be posted by the indicated deadline. Please feel free link to external resources as necessary, but use the post primarily as a way of sharing your own analysis, synthesis, and thoughts.

Course Blog Grading Rubric

Criteria Performance Quality Score
0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points
Blog Posts Blog post was not published on time, is poorly written, does not contain content relevant to the course, or does not meet the post length requirement. Blog post was published on time, contains some spelling and/or grammatical errors, meets the post length requirement, but content is not very relevant to the course, or does not expand upon course topics. Blog post was published on time, contains no spelling and/or grammatical errors, meets the post length requirement, and the content expands upon course topics. Blog post is published on time, is very well written with no typos, grammar, or spelling errors, expands upon course topics, and exceeds the minimum post length. Post contains images where relevant to the content, and links to plenty of sources and resources.  

Assignment: Who Is It For?

The first thing you need to do on any web writing job (or any writing job, period) is figure out what you need to accomplish: what information you need to provide, who you need to provide it to, and how. On the surface, that can look simple. To sell a product, provide its specifications and some marketing language, etc. To write an About Us page, talk about the organization. But, as the tens of thousands of poorly written sites on the web attest, there’s more to it than that.

If you’re selling a product, you’ll need to know who you’re selling to, how the product will solve a problem or make their lives better, and why they should buy the product instead of another. To write an About Us page, for example, you need to know what information about the organization people need to know (directions to an office? what the company does? whether it’s hiring?) and what information the organization wants to communicate about itself (mission statement, core values, etc.)—and then figure out how to balance those two things so that users get what they need without wading through fluff and the organization communicates its self-concept in ways that aren’t irritating.

Part One: Analyze the three example sites selected by your instructor and write short answers to the following questions for each site:

  • What audience is this site intended to serve? In other words, who are the target readers or product users or community members, and what’s your reasoning for this conclusion?
  • Is there a single audience for the site, or are there multiple audiences?
  • If there’s one large audience, can it be broken up into more manageable components?
  • How do the site’s audiences break down by:
    • age
    • gender
    • language
    • nationality
    • education
    • ethnicity
    • interests
    • economic status
    • political preferences

Part Two: Pick one of the example websites your instructor has provided. If you were the writer assigned to produce content for a website like this one, how would your analysis of the site’s readership influence your content? Consider things like copy length, tone, vocabulary, the use (or avoidance) of professional jargon or other specialist language, use of images, audio, and video, emphasis on alternate content for accessibility, choice of style guide, and so on.

Assignment Grading Rubric

Criteria Performance Quality Score
0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points
“Who Is It For?” The student’s work does not fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, but it doesn’t answer all the questions or demonstrate a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts. It may contain mechanical errors, and is not written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates a reasonable understanding, though not mastery, of the relevant concepts. It contains few mechanical errors, but may not be written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills all requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts. It is fluidly written, and contains no major mechanical errors.  

Assignment: What Does It Do?

Analyze the example web page(s) provided by your instructor and try to answer the following questions:

  • Who is the product, service, or information for?
    • Who are the target audiences for this page?
    • Can these audiences tell from this copy that the writers are speaking to them?
    • Can other people outside our audience tell that the writers are NOT speaking to them?
  • What is the product, service, or information, exactly?
  • Have the writers spelled out, clearly and in simple language, what the product is?
  • Are the nouns as concrete as they can possibly be?
  • What does the product do for its target user?
    • Have the writers laid out the product’s primary features and benefits in a clear, concrete way?
  • Is it clear why the product, service, or information is better than the available alternatives?
    • What evidence is presented for those claims?
    • Are the writers presenting that evidence clearly and without fluffy, empty language that makes them look like they’re boasting?

Assignment Grading Rubric

Criteria Performance Quality Score
0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points
“What Does It Do?” The student’s work does not fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, but it doesn’t answer all the questions or demonstrate a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts. It may contain mechanical errors, and is not written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates a reasonable understanding, though not mastery, of the relevant concepts. It contains few mechanical errors, but may not be written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills all requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts. It is fluidly written, and contains no major mechanical errors.  

Assignment: Who Does It Sound Like?

Go back to the website you analyzed in part two of the “Who Is It For?” assignment. Write up a one-page description of the voice and tone you would use if writing content for this site. Consider the following questions as you do so:

  • What is the voice of the organization? Is it formal and “businesslike” or relaxed and conversational? Is it sophisticated or simple? Friendly and warm or cool and distant?
  • If you were to imagine a celebrity speaking the site’s content aloud, who would be most appropriate? How would you characterize this person’s literal voice and its relationship to the site’s voice?
  • Is there more than one audience for this site? Are some sections or pages dedicated to only one of these audiences, or to a subset of audiences? Will the entire site be written in the same voice and with the same tone? Will some pages be simpler or friendlier or more sophisticated?
  • Consider the ways in which the voice and tone you’ve zeroed in on will be reflected on the pages with the most copy, and on the pages with the least. How can FAQs, interface copy like form labels and instructions, image captions, and so on reflect these voice and tone choices?

Assignment Grading Rubric

Criteria Performance Quality Score
0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points
“Who Does It Sound Like?” The student’s work does not fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, but it doesn’t answer all the questions or demonstrate a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts. It may contain mechanical errors, and is not written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates a reasonable understanding, though not mastery, of the relevant concepts. It contains few mechanical errors, but may not be written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills all requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts. It is fluidly written, and contains no major mechanical errors.  

Assignment: Print to Web

Part One

Your instructor will have provided you with a series of print materials that need to be evaluated, edited, and prepared for web use. For each piece of printed material, consider the following questions and briefly write up your answers and recommendations:

  • Does this material belong on the website?
    • What is the purpose of the content of the printed material? What is it trying to accomplish?
    • Does the content still serve this purpose (and does the purpose still make sense) if the content is moved online?
  • How should this material be altered for online use?
    • Does the style of the content seem appropriate for use on the web or in other online communication? If not, how should the content be changed before it’s used online? Are these the kind of style and editorial changes that a writer would be able to make during a revision process, or will the content need to be rewritten from the bottom up?
    • One of the most striking differences between effective print content and effective online content is that the latter is usually, but not always, much shorter. Can the print content you’re considering be condensed for online use? Would doing so increase or decrease its value to online readers?
    • Is the content in an appropriate format for use online? Consider ways in which static images could be turned into styled, search-engine friendly text, complex diagrams into simpler animations or videos, repetitious information into hyperlinked text, and lengthy blocks of text into leaner sets of paragraphs and lists.

Part Two

Now select one of the print pieces that your instructor has provided and revise that content for web use (leaving aside other forms of online communication for now); your instructor may require that you choose from a smaller set of print materials for this part of the assignment.

  • Revise your chosen print content, keeping in mind the recommendations you’ve made regarding style, length, format, and so on.
  • Explain the reasons for your revisions at the beginning of the document.
  • Indicate the placement and destination (in general terms, not with specific URLs) of hyperlinks as well as your web formatting suggestions: for example, if you think an illustration should be used in the web version of the content, note how big it needs to be in order to be useful; if you think a list should be turned into a drop-down form field, make a note to that effect in your revised copy, along with your reasoning.
  • As a web writer, you’re likely to encounter situations in which a chunk of content needs to be rewritten, but you can’t complete the rewrite yourself without additional information or assistance from an expert in the field you’re writing for or about. If you reach a section in your print-to-web content that needs to be rewritten for web use, but for which you will need the assistance of an internal/subject matter expert, don’t skip the section or attempt to revise the passage without the additional information—instead, write a note explaining what additional information you will need, what sort of person you’re likely to need it from (A marketing person? A scientist? Someone in Human Resources?), and what you consider to be the goal of the revision itself.
  • Look over your revised version of the content and check for inconsistencies in style and tone as well as mechanical errors and typos. Your final version should be polished and ready for publication on the web.

Assignment Grading Rubric

Criteria Performance Quality Score
0 points 1 point 2 points 3 points
“Print to Web” The student’s work does not fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, but it doesn’t answer all the questions or demonstrate a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts. It may contain mechanical errors, and is not written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills the basic requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates a reasonable understanding, though not mastery, of the relevant concepts. It contains few mechanical errors, but may not be written fluidly. The student’s work fulfills all requirements of the assignment, answers all the questions, and demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts. It is fluidly written, and contains no major mechanical errors.  

Final Assignment: Your Example Website

Final Assignment Part #1: Define Your Audience

Establish the target audiences for your web content using the techniques you’ve learned in this course. Write up your user research and develop three to five simple user personas to guide your work during the rest of the project.

Final Assignment Part #2: Draft Your Content Recommendations

Write a two- to three-page set of content recommendations that include appropriate voice and tone for the site as a whole and for its sections, and that describes your high-level writing goals for each section of the site: what will each section of the site do?

Final Assignment Part #3: Create a Writing Project Plan

Choose 8-10 pages in your example website for which you will write copy. These should include the home page, landing pages for major site sections, the About page (whatever it’s called), and a handful of subpages, and some of the pages should contain illustrative (rather than decorative) images.

Using this information, create a writing project plan. This plan can be relatively informal, but should include:

  • A high-level description of the work to be done: what you’ll be writing for which pages, in a paragraph or so
  • A breakdown of each page to be written, and of each “chunk” of content on each page, including headings, introductions, body copy, bullet lists, summaries, product/service descriptions, data tables, interface copy (“microcopy”), and so on, headed by a one- or two-sentence description of what you’ll attempt to accomplish on that page
  • A list of information required to write each chunk of copy, along with potential sources for such information: marketing or sales leads, information architects or developers on the project, legal counsel, etc.
  • A timeline for writing each chunk of copy, including interim deadlines for acquiring the information you need and delivering each piece of content specified on the syllabus by the appropriate dates
  • A statement of the ways in which you will measure the success of your project: in other words, how will you know you’ve succeeded?

Final Assignment Part #4: Write Copy for Major Pages

  • Draft body copy and headings for each of the major pages you identified in Part #3 of this assignment, keeping in mind your target audience, the organization’s goals, your stated purpose for each page, and the voice and tone you have established.
  • Bring these pages in for the peer review session your instructor will have scheduled.
  • After you’ve received editorial feedback from your peers (and your instructor, if applicable), revise your body copy and headings for inclusion in the polished version of your final assignment. In your own work, and in your peers’ work, look for ways to increase clarity, streamline copy, refine purpose, and ensure consistency of voice, tone, and style.

Final Assignment Part #5: Write Microcopy and Additional Copy

  • Write link text, alt attribute text and captions for images, and helpful, brand-appropriate “interface copy” and navigation labels for all major pages of your example website.
  • Bring this additional to class for peer review session.
  • After you’ve received editorial feedback from your peers (and your instructor, if applicable), revise your additional for inclusion in the polished version of your final assignment.

Final Assignment Part #6: Mark Up Your Content

For this step, you’ll be shifting away from pure writing work and thinking about the intersection of writing and markup. You don’t need to “design” your page — design and typography are very important to creating a good reading experience, but for now, just focus on the code.

  • Mark up the content of your pages semantically using XHTML or HTML, referring back to RESOURCES as needed to guide your markup choices. Make sure you use paragraphs, headings, ordered or unordered lists, tables, and other markup elements accurately and according to their intended use.
  • Validate your markup using the W3C’s validator, and correct any errors.
  • Make sure you’re using good alt text for your images and good link text for all your hyperlinks.

Examination Questions

Resources

General Writing

Content Strategy

Keywords

Reading on the Web

 

Personas

  • The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri (a book about dramatic writing, but potentially very useful for the creation of useful personas)

Contributors

Primary Course Developer: Erin Kissane