• Day 3 – Writing for the web

Writing for the web is different; it’s becoming more different by the day.

First, let’s make this clear. Writing is important, it’s always been important, and it continues to be important. Good writing is an exceptionally efficient way of conveying information and ideas. The web has emphasized this importance. People who can write well — who write like we teach journalists to write — will always have an advantage in communicating, whether on the web or anywhere else. But especially on the web.

Let’s look at what’s the same, and then what leads me to say it’s different:

●      writing must present original, unique information

●      writing should be accurate, precise, clear and efficient


But what is different about the web:

Words still the most efficient way to communicate.
Because of the way that people use the web — and this point cannot be over-emphasized — words are of primary importance. How do people use the web? Most of the research says that people show up at a website looking for something. What? A bargain? A definition? A way to solve a problem? A means of satisfying their curiosity? The latest news and weather?
Why do you think people come (or will come) to your site?
Will they get what they are looking for?
How quickly?

Readers scan more than they read.
Readers come to a website looking for a specific piece of information or looking for something that will interest them. They will invest a little time and a little effort, but not much. That’s why they scan. But that’s nothing new. Readers of newspaper pages scan the page, too, but they have had more to look at and more chances to stop and read. Websites do not offer that many choices. Consequently, what is on the page should be compelling.

Writers and editors should find ways to make readers stop scanning and start reading.
How do we do that? Can you think of any ways? Read on and get some clues.

Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert, readers are lazy, selfish and ruthless.
If it looks like readers/visitors to a site are going to have to work, they’ll leave. If they don’t get what they want, they’ll leave. If they leave, they probably won’t come back.

If it looks like you’re going to make readers work, they won’t.
Same point as the one above — almost — but what do we mean by that? The website has to look easy. This is where basic design elements come into play. Type should be clear and legible. Backgrounds should enhance, not obscure the type. Actually, your background should be white. Period. No arguments. Your students may want to do something else. You should tell them, “No, you can’t smoke and you can’t have a colored background. They’re both deadly.”
But, what’s this go to do with writing? It does have some effect. Which of these is easier to read:

Each example uses exactly the same words. The first is deadly. The second is a little better, but not much. The third uses white space, a bulleted list, and boldface type to help the reader along. The writing didn’t change, but the concept of the writer in presenting the information did.

Think: user interface – is your writing a good interface?
Well, that’s what the previous example is all about, isn’t it? Creating an interface for the information that you have to present. The third example creates the best interface.

Engage and enrich
The secret to good writing is having information and ideas that people find compelling, or maybe just interesting. Either way, in the world of journalism, good reporting is the key. Getting good information, and lots of it, makes the writing engaging and enriching. Report, report, report. If you do that, the writing won’t be so hard.

— design to maximize the information, not distract from it: CLUTTER OUT!

— readers think in lists; so should we

— Twitter is the new form (sorry, but it’s true)

— good summaries lead to more engagement

— readers want what they want, not necessarily what we want to tell them

Think: if I were a reader and I had 20 seconds . . .
. . . or thought I had 20 seconds, what would I want to be told? What would I want to know?
Picture a student walking into a classroom She checks her cellphone to find out the latest news about the school. Will she get it?

Think: advertising principles
Write something that is interesting, information-rich, compelling.
Write something that say you must read this, you’ll miss something if you don’t, this will make you _____ (rich, good-looking, interesting, less annoying, etc.).

— curated links

— search engines

— give the readers what they want, and they’ll come back

What we know so far

But what we are coming to know about the web and the way people use it leads us to say:

●      The writing should be tighter – more concise.

●      Writers should use words and phrases that are information rich.

●      Writing should be shorter but with no loss of information.

●      Writers must learn to write quickly and with confidence.

●      Headlines, as they have always been, are primary.

Additional readings and links

Jonathan Dube, Writing News Online, Poynter.org, Published July 14, 2003 2:45 pm Updated Mar. 2, 2011 2:03 pm

Lisa Gary, AlternativeLeadsLBG , a PowerPoint presentation by Lisa Gary. Clicking on this link will download the PowerPoint to your computer. This presentation is designed as a self-paced exercise students can do on their own after they have mastered basic news writing. It can also be modified for in-class use.


Discussion questions

Take on one of these and post a response on our forum:

1. In what ways does journalistic writing change when you are writing for a website?



News site management assignments

Creating pages. Your website should have pages — permanent places where the information changes only occasionally. The ISONN sites already have an About page, but you might want to consider others, such as a Contact Us page, a Staff page, and a page with information about your school or program. You can create a page by clicking on Pages >> Add New on the left side of the dashboard. Do this to make sure you understand how this happens.

Did you know? As administrator you can delete just about anything from your site. For instance, if you add a page and publish it, you can also delete that page.

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