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Writing for the Web
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Writing for the Web


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Lecture given to students at the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, January 2010.

Lecture given to students at the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, January 2010.

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  • 1. Writing for the Web Howard Hudson, Editor European Journalism Centre
  • 2. Image: Inju (Flickr) Reading used to be relaxing...
  • 3. Print Newspapers / magazines consumed more slowly -> read at breakfast, on trains or planes -> more passive and relaxed: you get what you're given -> articles need to stand alone: they need to include background -> supposedly neutral, but often tailored to certain groups (education level, political orientation, etc.) e.g. in UK, Sun / Daily Mail, Telegraph / Guardian
  • 4. Web Web articles are often read after Googling, via RSS feeds or in between other tasks -> more active and rushed > 'user-driven' -> articles can be shorter because they need less context > can link to archived material -> if readers don't know a word or concept, they can check online...
  • 5. Image: Wikipedia
  • 6. How little do we read on the web?
    • Between 20-30% of text on an average page
    • Higher literacy = higher scanning
    • Assume 200-250 words by minute
    • Around 4 words per second
    Data: Jakob Nielson,
  • 7. Web: pros and cons
    • Web = a linking medium = more distractions
    • Readers filter information and 'cherry-pick' sources
  • 8. Web: pros and cons Web 2.0 has one BIG advantage: “You remember 10% of what you read, 50% of what you read AND hear, and 90% of what you read, hear AND interact with.” (Niels Thøgersen, DG Communication, European Commission)
  • 9. Image: BuddhaMunx (Flickr) Make the most of multimedia. Create podcasts, mash-ups or just add comments
  • 10. Major questions Questions for new media outlets: -> how do we build up our credibility? -> how do we make our product stand out from the media tsunami? -> how do we find our niche in the market?
  • 11. How to win credibility?
    • Know and serve your audience in terms of style, perspective and desired content
    • Find a unique angle and voice
    • Be consistent: Create or adopt a style guide (BBC, AP); use either US or UK English
    • Avoid exaggeration and marketing: obscures facts and loses you trust
    • Use concise and objective text, esp. in headlines and summaries
  • 12. Headlines Headlines need to be short, but make sense on their own: -> on average 5 words, 35 characters -> concise yet rich in information -> people often arrive via lists or feeds, with small and uniform text -> people often skip summaries -> headlines are 'shop-fronts' for articles: people ignore unattractive/untrusted until recommended
  • 13. Headlines Front-load! -> first few words are key: for hooking readers and improving Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) -> open with main names or concepts from article -> old, precise words are best for SEO: people search conservatively -> use the passive voice if it helps you front-load -> drop a 's and the 's : saves space, ensures better alphabetical listings
  • 14. Headlines and summaries
    • avoid 'clever' or novel words, unusual abbreviations, politically correct phrases
    • -> confuses people and search engines
    • don't repeat headline words early in summaries
  • 15. Keeping attention: Layout... Use bullets or numbered lists -> Add sub-headings for chunks of text: descriptive better than catchy (esp. for international audience) -> Format headings with bold or italics -> Use graphics and galleries Use decimals (12 not twelve) -> use 3 million rather than 3,000,000 -> spell out non-factual numbers (thousands of cows, not 1000s of cows) -> use exact numbers to add credibility -> ok at start of sentences
  • 16. Keeping attention: Content -> one idea per paragraph -> post updates, e.g. statistics (see Reuters) -> link to other sites: shows you've done your research -> 'Front-load' article: begin with main position or conclusion, add key info, then essential context... aka the 'Inverted Triangle'
  • 17.  
  • 18. Long or short articles? “ A mixed diet that combines brief overviews and comprehensive coverage is often best” Jakob Nielson -> Write short blogs (eg 800 words), with links to longer articles or research papers (eg 2000+ words) -> Serves everyone: those who want a quick, light read and those who want more detailed info -> Use links to longer articles rather than repeating the same background. Don't add to the 'media tsunami'...
  • 19.
  • 20. Finding your voice... 'Three guides to writing: Structure, struggle and alcohol' -> Write about what you care about -> Don't ramble or play with words -> Don't be pretentious -> Pity your reader: keep things simple and clear -> Click here for the full article. (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • 21. Finding your voice... Freewriting -> Begin with speed writing (e.g. 30 minutes) -> Then stop and do nothing but revise for the same length of time -> Writing and revising use different parts of brain (Peter Elbow)
  • 22. Thank you for listening! Email: [email_address] Web: