Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writing for the Web

This Monday, 20 participants and several observers took part in re.web’s Writing for the Web workshop presented by Mark Sheehy of mStoner. Why? Can't we write already? Well, there are a few steps to follow that are unique to websites:
  1. Consider your target audience. Who are they? What are they looking for? What do YOU want to tell them?

  2. Consider your content. Does it reflect the needs outlined in Point 1 (above)? Is it accurate? Who is responsible for keeping it accurate? How often should it be updated?

  3. Consider the website as a whole. Are there others working on the site who should know about the information you are posting? Who else would want to link to your information?

  4. Consider the portion of the website where your information will live. What is its Information Architecture? How will you link to the new page? How will the new page link to other information on your site?

  5. NOW, you can start writing your page. Unless the previous steps are followed, you risk posting information that is irrelevant, unfocused, and difficult to find. Why would you want to do that?
When it comes to actual writing, Mark made several points:
  • People read a website the way we used to read newspapers. They head straight to the information most relevant to them; taking note of the "headlines" they may want to go back to while on their way. Make their key information easy to find, and they'll be more open to absorbing the information YOU want them to come away with.
  • Like newspapers, people decide what to read based on the headline and first paragraph. In a web page, the "headline" is either the title of the web document, or it is the text that is used as the link to that document. Be careful how you phrase the links.

  • There are many points of entry to a webpage. We have to write so that every web page makes sense on its own, as well as within the greater context.

  • People are not waiting to download and then read lengthy documents to find snippets of information. We’ve got to present information more effeciently than posting pdfs.
The re.web project is all about giving us the tools and framework to make our information easier to find. It is up to the content providers to make that information effective once the user gets there.

The document "The Road to the New W&M Web Presence" (pdf) gives more tips on writing for the web. The web team will be putting together more workshops in the future. If you are interested in attending one, please let us know!

posted by Kathy Larrieu

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