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Writing right for the Web... Q&A from folks attending my December webinars

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Web writing... Engaging experienced and novice writers

To help update presentations for two upcoming Writing Right for the Web webinars in December, we asked people already registered in early November to answer this question: 
  • "What is your most pressing challenge or area of concern when writing for and presenting content on" a traditional website and for social media and mobile sites?
In the next week or so I'll share some responses here, along with answers that might work help meet you meet a similar challenge.

Two people reported challenges that get right to the heart of a serious problem: in some cases, neither experienced nor novice writers quite know where to start on "writing right for the web."
  • Experienced writers: "We have five staff writers, four of whom are older and have been at our university for a long time. There seems to be some belief that writing should be the same, regardless of the medium."
  • Novice writers: "We use a content management system, and many of the folks who publish content on our website are not professional writers. Our challenge is teaching them that Web readers tend to skim, not read. They need... lots of bullet points and subheads."
OK, how can you design a solution that increases the ability of both experienced and novice writers to "write right for the web?" The premise: neither group has a comfort level with the online writing environment. The ultimate goal: create a self-supporting, reinforcing environment for everyone responsible for this critical task.

8 steps to web writing success

Let's start with eight points, understanding that not everything might be possible right away:
  • Lobby for a web content editor position. You're in the online publishing business and every publication needs an experienced editor who understands what audiences wants and how to best deliver it to them.
  • Get enough copies of books on web writing that content creators can borrow and read. My choices to start: Letting Go of the Words and Killer Web Content
  • Find a volunteer to monitor new news on web writing in places like Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox reports on web writing. When something new appears share that with every content creator on campus. Nielsen's paying special attention to "mobile" right now.
  • Create an introductory workshop for new people appointed to create or maintain web content. Hold one whenever you have at least five new people to attend. The best person to hold the workshop? Your web editor, if you have one. Or the person on campus who best fits that role. Cover the Nielsen basics. Share examples of top web writing on your campus and at other universities.
  • Get people talking with one another on a regular basis. Too often web writers are scattered about a university and don't ever meet and share challenges and solutions among themselves. Plan monthly meetings of one to two hours. Invite people to submit topics in advance, but have at least two prepared ahead of time, i.e., "How can I convince my dean that most paragraphs shouldn't be more than five lines long?"
  • Find another volunteer. Have them search for an example of best web writing at another university for review and discussion at each regular meeting. 
  • Share discussion points and answers after each monthly meeting with people who couldn't make it. Not everyone will come to every meeting. That's fine.
  • Once a year, have a party to celebrate success. You might even have a "Web Writer of the Year" award.
Don't let people swim alone in the ocean

Of course, there is no single solution that will work best for everyone. 

Mix and match the ingredients to fit your own circumstances. But move as quickly as possible to get past the worst mistake: letting too many people swim alone in an ocean with neither other swimmers nor the shore in sight. Do that, and web writers will drown.

Writing Right for the Web in December

Join us on December 6 & December 8 for "Writing Right for the Web"
  • Review what we'll cover for traditional websites as well as the social media and mobile worlds in the Academic Impressions webinar outline.
  • Register and invite everyone who might be interested. 
That's all for now.




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