February 1, 2015

Web Writing

As we encourage folks--students and teachers--to write blogs, create websites, and share tweets I think we should also help them to write well for the web.

Sharing information on the web and sharing printed information have some common characteristics. For example, both can reach a wide audience and both can be illustrated with images.

Other features, however, differ. I particularly like the ease with which we can access related information on the web compared with doing so in print. Hyperlinks are so much more convenient then footnotes. And it's easier to update information on the web than it is in print.

Whether I am writing for the web or for print I work through three stages:
  1. pre-writing,
  2. writing, and
  3. post-writing.
In this post I discuss web writing, the process I use when I write for the web.

Web Writing Diagram / Jo Schiffbauer / CC BY 2.0

Pre-Writing: Gather Data

I begin by gathering data. This is the pre-writing stage. I search specific blogs, Delicious, Pinterest, Scoop.It and Twitter for ideas and data. Today when I research a topic I use these resources… in this order:
  1. my bookmarking site (Delicious) for my bookmarks and those of others,
  2. curated information (Pinterest and Scoop.It) published by others interested in the same topic,
  3. blogs by folks I follow who often write about my topic,
  4. Twitter comments, and
  5. the web as accessed by search engine(s)
I describe my process for this in a blog post, How Do You Search for Information on a Topic? (http://teachinginadigitalworld.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-do-you-search-for-information-on.html).


Writing: Organize Ideas, Write, and Proofread

After I have the data I need I am ready for the writing stage. At this point I have three tasks:
  1. organize my ideas,
  2. write my first draft (and additional drafts as necessary), and
  3. proofread when I think I have completed composing my message.

Organize Ideas

One of my favorite tools for visually planning projects is Inspiration software. The mind map above shows my organization of the topic of web writing. If you do not have access to Inspiration software, you can use one of the many free mind map sites. See my blog post about mind maps and other graphics organizers: Resources for Graphics Organizers, Concept Maps, and Mind Maps (http://teachinginadigitalworld.blogspot.com/2014/03/resources-for-graphic-organizers.html).

Writing / C x 2 / CC BY 2.0

Write My First Draft (and Additional Drafts as Necessary)

I use a text editor in the writing stage in order to minimize transferring unnecessary (proprietary) code when I transfer my draft to the blogging software. I have just started using Text Wrangler and am pleased with it. At some point I would like to work with Markdown.

I include links to sources and media in web writing. That's one of the big advantages of writing for the web. Those links should be click-able. Readers should not have to copy-and-paste the URL (web address) of a website. All they should need to do is click on the link provided. I link to products, articles, media, ... anything about which I think my readers would like more information.

When writing for my blog I include labels. That allows readers to easily find any of my blog posts about specific topics. The label for this blog post is web writing. When I write tweets for Twitter I use hashtags so readers can find other tweets about the same topics.

When I write my first (and each subsequent) draft I find that the result is usually better if I follow these guidelines:
  • Discuss one topic per blog post.
  • Read only the headlines (main and sub-) to determine if they tell enough about the content so readers will know what the article is about from scanning the headlines.
  • Use keywords more than once in the article to emphasize their relevance to the topic in a search.
  • Be sure that most readers will learn something new from reading the content.
  • Remember that benefits--rather than features--sell products. Tell the readers how the topic will help them teach better, create more effective lessons, reach more students.
My mechanics for writing an interesting and readable article include:
  • short sentences,
  • understandable vocabulary rather than impressive words,
  • broken rules (start a sentence with "and" and/or use sentence fragments),
  • only necessary words, and
  • short choices... sentences, articles, words, and paragraphs.
In my writing style I try to do each of the following:
  • Show my passion. Express an opinion.
  • Write in a conversational style.
  • Express enthusiasm and entertain the readers.
  • Don't always be predictable. Say something surprising.
  • Show the readers that I care about them.
  • Avoid the passive tense. (Using passive tense is a major weakness for me. To handle that I use a grammar checker that identifies passive sentences. Invariably it finds at least one passive sentence in any blog post I write. But once it's identified I can then revise the sentence so it is no longer passive. Some day I'll check a post I've written and discover that no passive sentences have been found!)
The concept of graphic design does not apply only to images. How the text looks affects how it is read and understood.
  • Use white space. A less "busy" appearance is more inviting to readers.
  • Consider column width. The width of the column affects how quickly the content can be read and understood.
  • Use bullets and numbered lists. The format looks different and readers like the efficiency of finding information in lists.
  • Use a maximum of five sentences in a paragraph. Short is good.
  • Less than ten words per sentence. Again... short is good.
  • If you are creating a presentation follow the 6x6 (or 6x7) rule: no more than six words across / no more than six (or seven) bullet points.
Benjamin Franklin's Type Set / Childers, Tim. img_2691.jpg. June, 2011. Pics4Learning. 2 Feb 2015 <http://pics.tech4learning.com>

Be intentional in your use of fonts:
  • The font chosen should be easy to read, of appropriate size, and a good color contrast with the background. Use common fonts that readers are likely to have on their computers.
  • Use a maximum of two fonts in no more than three sizes. Sans serif fonts work well for large amounts of copy in web writing. Arial and Helvetica are examples of sans serif fonts because they have no tiny lines at the ends of the letters.
  • Use colors that make reading easier. Dark blue text on a light yellow background, light yellow text on a blue background, and white text on a black background work well if you are not using the standard black text on white background.
  • Avoid red text or background. If you really want to use red, try burgundy instead.
  • If you use color backgrounds, consider how they affect the readers' reactions.
black => power and sophistication
blue => calm and/or conservative ideas
gray => neutrality
green => involve the viewer
yellow => share cheerfulness and hope

Illustrate the text with appropriate images that help readers connect with the topic. Be sure that you:
  • have permission to use any images and/or content you include,
  • provide attribution for work you use and/or reference, and
  • use others' work only when the copyright supports that use.
Some ideas I have shared on this blog about finding and using photos and other images include the following:


When I proofread I do these things:
  • do not proofread immediately,
  • evaluate the title,
  • check if the content is organized and supported by the research,
  • read out loud, and
  • proofread in stages: spelling, grammar, style, clickability of links, ...
Recently I shared some ideas for proofreading: Proofread Like An Expert (http://teachinginadigitalworld.blogspot.com/2015/01/proofread-like-expert.html).

Social Media Tagxedo Cloud / Jo Schiffbauer

Post-Writing: Share in a Blog, on a Wiki, in Twitter, or on a Website

Finally I am ready for the post-writing stage. At this point I share my message in a blog, on a wiki, on Twitter, or on a website. Basic content I want to share goes to the blog or a website. Lessons I will teach in class find their home in a wiki or on a website. Twitter handles notifying others that new information is available on my blog or on other blogs.

Sources I Used for This Post That You May Want to Read

5 Questions to Ask When Writing Content

11 Ways to Bore the Boots Off Your Readers

Concerned About Copyright? A Guide for Legally Using Images on the Web

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