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Writing for the College Web Site



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Co-presented with Barbara T. Obrentz, Chief Public Relations Officer/ Director of Marketing for Georgia Perimeter College at CASE III in 2009, this session taught communications theory as it relates to the usability of Web pages - what information college audiences expect from various Web pages and what written formats best deliver that content. Topics included: research on how people read web pages (usability); samples of well-designed web pages; identifying key website audiences; how to organize website content; how to write scanable website text using key words, meaningful headlines, bulleted lists, etc.; and using common writing styles and new writing formats such as chunking.

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Writing for the College Web Site

  1. 1. Writing for the Web CASE III February 10, 2009 Presented by: Rosemary Jean-Louis and Barbara Obrentz
  2. 2. Introduction The Georgia Perimeter College Web site has become a vital communication tool. It has multiple purposes for multiple audiences.
  3. 3. Why it Matters •More time for faculty and staff when routine info and tasks are done on the Web •The Web works for you 24/7 •Positive experiences through the Web builds relationships within institutions and about institutions •A powerful way to accomplish your mission •Speed of information •Mobility of population
  4. 4. Communication Leaps Top Ten 3500 BC The Phoenicians develop an alphabet 1450 Newspapers appear in Europe 1714 Patent on the typewriter 1843 First telegraph line 1876 Patent on the telephone 1936 First programmable computer 1957 Soviets Launch Sputnik 1982 FCC authorizes cellular service 1990 Berners-Lee coins the phrase World Wide Web 1992 World Bank comes online
  5. 5. Communications Leaps 1998-Present • 1998-2005 The WWW size between 275 million and 11.5 billion pages • 1999 the word “blog” coined • 2003-2006 Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube launched • 2007 iPhone offers first mobile, full Web browsing • 2008 Twitter and microblogging takes off; explosion of online communities/social networking sites
  6. 6. Paradigm Shift #1 Web Usage in Early Days • Standard content was posted into new electronic medium • Web was used as an Electronic Bulletin Board • Text was static
  7. 7. Paradigm Shift #2 New Media Model Web pages are multidimensional: • Text • Images • Audio • Video • Interactive elements • RSS/Twitter feeds • Blogs • Podcasts
  8. 8. Key Findings Poynter Institute* • People read a high volume of story text in both print and online • People read in two ways: methodically and scanning • Alternative forms of reading like Q&A, timelines, short sidebars and lists help readers understand information more quickly • Big headlines and photos attract print readers, but directional elements draw online readers • Photos get a lot of attention *Eyetrack 07
  9. 9. Understanding Users • Usability research Three factors caused poor performance • Insufficient reading skills • Less sophisticated research strategies • Dramatically less patience Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group, 1997, 1999
  10. 10. F Pattern’s Three Components • Users read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the page • Then they move down the page a little and read across again, but not as far across as before • Users scan the page’s left side in a vertical movement Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group, 1997, 1999
  11. 11. Implications of the F Pattern • Users won’t read your text thoroughly • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information • Start subheads, paragraphs and bullet points with words that carry the meaning
  12. 12. Measuring Effectiveness Researchers measured usability by how successful users were in accomplishing a given task. •5 versions of basically the same web pages •Three improvements boosted usability 124% -Concise writing (omit needless words) -Objective language; no puffery, exaggerations -Scannable text Source: Jakob Nielsen,
  13. 13. Measuring Effectiveness Original copy: Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446). Source: Jakob Nielsen,
  14. 14. Measuring Effectiveness Revised Copy: Half Amount of Words than Original: In 1996, six of the best-attended attractions in Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum, Carhenge, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park. Source: Jakob Nielsen,
  15. 15. Measuring Effectiveness Revised Copy: More Concise, Scannable Text, and Objective Language In 1996, six of the most-visited places in Nebraska were: • Fort Robinson State Park • Scotts Bluff National Monument • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum • Carhenge • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park Source: Jakob Nielsen,
  16. 16. Scannable Text Text that communicates to scanners uses • Highlighted keywords • Meaningful headings and subheadings • Bulleted lists • One idea per paragraph (users skip over any more if they aren’t caught by the first few words) • Half the usual word count
  17. 17. Who is the Audience? • To whom are your Web pages speaking? • How does your audience find information? • What are they looking for? • What response do you seek?
  18. 18. What Key Audiences Seek • Accurate, searchable online directories • New information • Benefits of college • Updated information • Photos, especially action photos • Student testimonials • News releases • Events • Universal navigation: same on every page • Consistent look and feel • Links and cross-references
  19. 19. Paradigm Shift #3 Organizing Content • Making the jump to a non-linear model
  20. 20. Inverted Pyramid Style
  21. 21. Inverted Pyramid Style The conclusion or ending comes first • College welcomes largest class ever. Most important supporting information comes next • Record SAT scores • Large increase in traditional age students • New faculty hired
  22. 22. Chunking • Segment writing into smaller, coherent units to avoid long, scrolling pages. Each page is an inverted pyramid connected to the larger subject. • Try to keep most important information above the “fold” — the limit of the initial screen view without scrolling. • Take care not to over-divide your information. For critical information, such as Admissions Requirements, users will print out and read.
  23. 23. Redundancy • Expect related Web pages to have some overlap • The highest priority is to make things clear to your reader • Try to provide a complete account of the subject with an appropriate amount of background or detail
  24. 24. Redundancy Examples
  25. 25. Links • A bonus for online writing; links invite further pursuit of topic or provide additional aspects • George Landow, Professor of English and art history at Brown, named both ends of the link -Rhetoric of departure -Rhetoric of arrival • Highlights the need for both ends of the link to give users understanding of where they may go and why the arrival page is relevant
  26. 26. Redundancy Examples
  27. 27. Streamline Content • Omit needless words • Keep it simple, unless content dictates otherwise • Use the active voice • Speak in one voice • Put statements in positive form • Keep to one tense • Write in a way that comes naturally • Do not overstate • Do not affect a breezy manner • Do not explain too much • Avoid fancy words • Be clear Elements of Style Strunk & White
  28. 28. Empower the User • Make sure people know what your site, and each page will do for them • If people need or want to act on your information, provide them what they need. • Give to the college • Register for class • Join a student organization
  29. 29. Proofread and Check • Read what you have written out loud • Proofread it backwards, one word at a time • Double-check all contact information: phones, email addresses, Web links, and mailing addresses • Know the editorial style chosen by the College and stick to it • Avoid acronyms
  30. 30. Pitfalls to Avoid • Visual distraction: colored and underlined text within a paragraph pulls the eye and disrupts the unit. • Most readers will click on link without ever finishing the paragraph • Disrupting the narrative: Links lead to stories half- told. Users may follow the link, and subsequent ones, and never return to your site
  31. 31. References • Elements of Style, Strunk and White • Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krugs • AP Style Guide • Poynter Institute Eyetrak 07 • Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen and Norman • Catherine Tittle, Technical Documentation specialist, Arbor Technicomm • Nathan Wallace, • Daniel Will-Harris
  32. 32. Further Reading • Ragan’s Web Content Report • – News, Ideas for Communicators • – Latest web design, content trends of higher education sites • Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krugs • Net words, Nick Usborne • Content Critical, Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton • Killer Web Content, Gerry McGovern • The Unusually Useful Web Book, June Cohen • Yale University Press Web Style Guide, 2nd Ed., Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton
  33. 33. Contact Us Rosemary Jean-Louis Barbara Obrentz Download the presentation at:

Editor's Notes

  • Notes:
    Why is the Web site important:
    2006 Interact Media Preference Survey shows that the internet is the # 1 source for
    prospective undergraduate and graduate students among 5,000 people surveyed.
    HS sophomores and juniors have particular interest in college Web sites
    On average, prospective students visited the Web site one time per week for
    approximately 15 min. each visit
    The admissions requirements page was most valued
    72% want to chat
    68% read blogs
    54% download podcasts
    45% subscribe to podcasts
  • Notes:
    The Web site is the preferred way to get information on enrollment and registration
    for Gen “Y” age 16-27:
    75% have a computer
    50% have internet access
    35-40% prefer Internet over radio
    # 2 way they learn about colleges
    For GPC students:
    Two of five respondents in the 2008 Interact Survey under the age of 25 said they area
    frequently or always online
    More than 75% under the age of 25 said they have a Facebook account
    Half of those under age 20 are always on Facebook
  • Notes:
    It’s hard to believe that the WWW has only been around since 1990. While the Internet was
    launched in 1969, it was the High performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991
    (originated by Sen. Al Gore) which provided funding and growth of the Internet. And, while Al
    Gore didn’t actually invent the Internet, his contributions to the development of the Internet
    as we know it today are significant.
    Additional commentary:
    The Christian Science Monitor is the first newspaper to go to an online format during the
    week, only publishing a paper copy on the weekend.
    Papers in major cities such as the Hartford, Ct. Current, AJC, etc. are seeing circulation
    and advertising way down and are threatening to close. As a matter of fact, their
    online publications (which are free) are cannibalizing their print versions – especially
    in classified advertising.
    The sad part is that most communities in threat of loosing their print may also loose a
    common point of reference (NY Times no longer covers news in Hartford) as it used
    to. Same is true of communities around Atlanta, where the paper no longer delivers
    to outlying areas and only covers news of the five most populated metro counties.
  • Notes:
    Present Web sites are combining these social elements:
    One of the most successful ones is – contained news, videos, ability to donate online, buy online; estabilished sense of community – add profiles, photos, your own videos, find events to go to in your area and add your own events and blog.
    Colleges adding mycollege type social networking sites to their main sites where students can get news, friend each other and so forth
  • Notes:
    Most surprising – a much larger percentage of story text was read, on average, online than in
    Point 1
    77% online
    62% in broadsheet
    57% in tabloid
    Point 2
    About 75% of readers are methodical
    Online readers are different – half are methodical while the other half are scanners: both
    read about the same volume of text
    Point 3
    More people answered questions correctly when presented with alternative forms of
    reading than traditional narrative; subjects paid 15% more attention to alternative
    story forms than regular print. This figure rose to 30% in online reading
    Point 4
    Large photos and print were looked at first in print – Online readers went for nav bars
    and teasers
    Point 5
    People doing things in real time (documentary photos) received more attention – mug
    shots got relatively little attention
  • Notes:
    Some users find the Web sites confusing – preferring phone or individual emails and giving up before they find what they need
    Faculty and staff may continue to be bogged down with routine transactions
    Limits the relationships and impact the College could have
  • Notes:
    Research shows that Web users scan text
    79% scanned any new page before they read the page -
    16% read word-for-word
  • Notes:
    Example of F- pattern
  • Notes:
    Same paragraph, revised with half of the amount of words than the original – scored 58% on the usability study as being more useful to the test group.
  • Notes:
    Same paragraph with more concise writing, scannable text and objective language – no exaggeration or puffery.
    This is the paragraph that scored 124% on the usability test as being the most helpful and effective for online readers.
  • Notes:
    Example of scannable text
  • Notes:
    # 1 audience of home page visitors were prospective students
    These people were looking for admission requirements
    and academic program offerings, followed by information on college life.
    GPC Statistics:
    60 % of students visit the Web site daily
    On average more than 50% used the Web to access class and advising
    More than 50% scrolled through the quick links
    Half of all students surveyed indicated they preferred electronic formats of class
    schedules, financial aid and course catalog
  • Notes:
    Traditional marketing principles should come into play.
    Show of hands how many of your sites meet the criteria we talked about ?
    The yeses how did it take you to get there?
  • Notes:
    What writing techniques do you apply when writing for the Web?
    Use traditional journalism techniques – the inverted pyramid style
  • Notes:
    Inverted Pyramid Example:
    -headline first and then most important information next - Daschle withdraws as HHS nominee – headline first graph – Daschle has withdrawn his nomination, 2nd graph controversy over his tax records had been an issue.
  • Notes:
    Inverted Pyramid Example Features
    features/profiles more flexible – not so just the facts in the first paragraph. But still the most important information about the subject is contained in the first two paragraphs. In our profile of Kevin Ngo we know he didn’t do well at Georgia State. He decided to come to GPC and by the 2nd paragraph we learn that GPC changed his life.
  • Notes:
    Expect related Web pages to have some overlap
    The highest priority is to make things clear to your reader
    Try to provide a complete account of the subject with an appropriate amount of background or detail.
  • Notes:
    The introduction of Transfer Admission Guarantee program is included here. Rather than including information on how students can get started in the program, it was chunked out to another page. Users click on Get started now and it takes them to another page that lists how they can get started.
  • Notes:
    Expect related Web pages to have some overlap
    The highest priority is to make things clear to your reader
    Try to provide a complete account of the subject with an appropriate amount of
    background or detail.
    Write to levels of interest including the following
  • Notes:
    Redundancy example
  • Notes:
    Don’t use links where not necessary and it can be distracting – make sure title corresponds to
    what you are really saying with the article
    Good and bad links – use links wisely
  • Notes:
    Example of good link use.
  • Notes:
    What techniques should you be applying to your writing?
    The rules from the Strunk and White book Elements of Style certainly apply
    Speak in one voice; don’t write in an academic way.
  • Notes:
    Never post anything without someone reading behind you; include grammar person
    Double-check any financial information
    Double-check any direct quotations
    Don’t use acronyms – unless they are used in the second reference. For example what is the NSA? Is it the National Security Agency or is it the National Softball Association (that’s also an acronym for it.)
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