Writing for the web

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Writing for the web is different from writing for print media. Here are essential principals.

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  • We’re usually in a hurry. Much of our web use is motivated by the desire to save time. As a result, web users tend to act like sharks……they have to keep moving or they’ll die. We just don’t have time to read any more than necessary.
    Also: We know we don’t have to read EVERYTHING. On most pages, we know we’re interested in just a fraction of what’s there. So we need to scan it to find the stuff that is relevant.
  • It’s like this cartoon. The dog appears to be listening attentively while he gets a serious talking to about staying out of the garbage. But from the dog’s point of view, he only hears what’s relevant: His name. That’s how we look at web pages. Like Ginger, we focus on words and phrases that seem to match (a) the task at hand or (b) our current personal interests or c) those trigger words we’re hardwired for: Sex. Free. Our own name.
  • How can you see it’s happy talk? When you’re reading it, do you hear a little voice saying blah blah blah blah?
    Happy talk might tell you how great something is. Without delineating what makes something so great.
    Happy talk comes at the end of the story, summarizing what I just read and tying it up with a cute bow. When I just want to click to the next page.
  • Taken from an actual class blog! What’s wrong with this? Let’s list the ways.
  • Writing for the web

    1. 1. Writing for the Web 1 Multimedia Journalism
    2. 2. 3 How do we interact differently: Using Internet vs watching TV?
    3. 3. Lean forward vs. lean back • On the Web, users are engaged and want to go places and get things done. The Web is an active medium. • Watching TV, viewers want to be entertained. They are in relaxation mode. They don't want to make choices. TV is a passive medium. 4
    4. 4. Example: Tall Travelers • An article can be a great newspaper article and a not so great online article. • Example: A story with the headline “Coping with the Tall Traveler’s Curse” in the New York Times. 5
    5. 5. Writing for print vs online • Headline “Tall traveler's curse" is a bit enticing and might draw print readers in. But online? The words "tall traveler's curse" are insufficiently specific. • The first 3 words have no information- carrying content. • The headline lacks keywords, which are important for SEO.
    6. 6. Print vs. online • In print, I would appreciate that it is well- written with good anecdotes. I might be looking for a good read. • Online, I am more likely to find the story via search or when looking for the news. In this case, I might not take time to read it because it lacks immediacy and utility. 09/01/10
    7. 7. How are newspapers (print medium) different from online? • Print publications contain linear content. They use a narrative storytelling approach. • Web content must be brief. Users are likely to be on a specific mission. Web users want actionable content. 8
    8. 8. Big difference in print vs. online 09/01/10
    9. 9. Who is in control? • In linear media readers expect you to construct their experience for them. Readers follow the author's lead. • In non-linear hypertext, users want to construct their own experience. They want to piece together content from multiple sources. Online, users want to be in control. 10
    10. 10. How do users read on the web? • They don’t. • They scan. • It’s harder to read on the web. They rarely read word by word. • A web page has three seconds or less to get you to read it. 11
    11. 11. Online readers are like sharks
    12. 12.
    13. 13. Web pages have to employ scannable text  Highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as a form of highlighting; boldface and color are others)  Meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones)  Bulleted lists 14
    14. 14. Example: Meaningful subheads • Subheads that are included only to be clever and cute don’t help. • Meaningful subheads do. Here’s an example: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/9736 09/01/10
    15. 15. Let’s examine those subheads Dad to Ann Coulter: Apologize! Dad demands Coulter apology Radio silence from Coulter Parent to Coulter: ‘What is your excuse?’ Celeb use of the ‘R’ word Social media fuels buzz Actress to Coulter: STOP! When famous people say ‘retard’ Free speech argument Advice to Coulter? 09/01/10
    16. 16. Short words. Short paragraphs. 09/01/10
    17. 17. Front load your content. 09/01/10
    18. 18. What does that mean? • To front-load your content, you put the most important information first. • Emphasize it in the first sentence and in the headings.
    19. 19. Keep it simple: One idea per paragraph. 09/01/10
    20. 20. Credibility is important How to improve credibility: • High-quality graphics • Good writing • Use of outbound hypertext links. (Shows you’ve done your homework) • Lack of “marketese” language or puffery 21
    21. 21. Example • Jakob Nielson conducted studies on how people read online • Presented the same information in several different formats • Measured how quickly and how well users absorbed the information. 22
    22. 22. Promotional writing (Original/control condition) 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). 23
    23. 23. The concise version 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. 24
    24. 24. What happened? • 58% improvement in how quickly readers absorbed the information and how well they recalled it. • Shorter = better. 25
    25. 25. The scannable version 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)  Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446). 26
    26. 26. What happens? • 47% improvement • Organize as bulleted list = better 27
    27. 27. The objective version Nebraska has several attractions. In 1996, some of the most-visited 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). 28
    28. 28. What happened? • Just this one change – taking out the “marketese” – improves readers ability to absorb the information by 27% • Cut the puffery = better • Why? 29
    29. 29. Combined version: concise, scannable, and objective 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 30
    30. 30. Results? • 124% improvement! • Combines these improvements • Shorter • Scannable • No “marketese” 31
    31. 31. Happy talk must die • Happy talk is promotional writing with no useful information. It hurts credibility. • In person it’s the small talk we use to be sociable. • Online people just want to get to the point. 09/01/10
    32. 32. If you haven't been to Boomers yet, you haven't lived. This amazing entertainment facility is a great time, every time. Upon entering this heaven on earth, you will not be prepared for what you're about to experience. Miniature golf, go karts, bumper boats, bowling, laser tag, a rock wall, kid's playground, and a larger-than-life game room are just a few of the activities Boomers offers. Also, Boomers will give you 5000 FREE game tickets on your birthday! Best birthday present ever, if you ask me! So go with a friend, go with your little sister, or go with the kids you're babysitting to keep them entertained (and entertain yourself). You are sure to have a blast at Boomers, and you may never want to leave.
    33. 33. Now that was happy talk. • It was 125 words long. • It didn’t even say where Boomers is located. • The gushing tone made me suspect the author was exaggerating (or works for Boomers.) A credibility issue. • It can be reduced to 55 words with the location. •
    34. 34. Boomers is a popular place for entertainment in Boca Raton offering: •miniature golf •go karts •bumper boats •bowling •laser tag •a rock wall •kid's playground •a huge game room. And mark your calendar for this: Boomers will give you 5000 FREE game tickets on your birthday. (Best birthday present ever, if you ask me.)
    35. 35. Example: A complex story written for newspaper With authorities on high alert for potential terrorist attacks, police today arrested a German man with an assault rife in his luggage soon after he arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport, prompting the evacuation of one of the airport’s terminals. 36
    36. 36. How does this work online? • Too much information in one sentence. • Too many details • The online reader will have trouble following this story. • Better to break it down. Fill in the details later in the story. 37
    37. 37. Better: Police today arrested a man with an assault rifle in his luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport. Authorities, on heightened alert for terrorist attacks, evacuated one of the airport’s terminals. 38

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