Writing For The Web Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words Pictures And Sound

by Lynda Felder

Author Lynda Felder Isbn 9780321794437 File size 6 7 MB Year 2011 Pages 192 Language English File format PDF Category Design With Writing for the Web you ll learn everything you need to know to create effective Web content using words pictures and sound Follow along as instructor and writer Lynda Felder combines easy to follow guidelines with photographs lists and tables to illustrate the key concepts behind writing nonlinear interactive stories creating succinct and clear copy and wo

Publisher :

Author : Lynda Felder

ISBN : 9780321794437

Year : 2011

Language: English

File Size : 6.7 MB

Category : Design



writing
for the
web

CREATING COMPELLING
WEB CONTENT USING WORDS,
PICTURES AND SOUND

LYNDA FELDER

Writing for the Web
Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words, Pictures and Sound
Lynda Felder
New Riders
1249 Eighth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
510/524-2178
510/524-2221 (fax)
Find us on the Web at www.newriders.com
To report errors, please send a note to [email protected]
New Riders is an imprint of Peachpit, a division of Pearson Education
Copyright 2012 by Lynda Felder
Associate Editor: Valerie Witte
Production Editor: Danielle Foster
Developmental Editor: Anne Marie Walker
Copyeditor: Anne Marie Walker
Proofreader: Scout Festa
Composition: Danielle Foster
Indexer: Joy Dean Lee
Cover Design: Charlene Charles-Will
Interior Design: Charlene Charles-Will and Danielle Foster
Photo Credits
Photo of Cuneiform script on clay tablet is in the public domain.
All other photos by Yashwin Chauhan. Yashwin Chauhan. All rights reserved.
Notice of Rights
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by
any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of the publisher. For information on getting permission for reprints and
excerpts, contact [email protected]
Notice of Liability
The information in this book is distributed on an “As Is” basis, without warranty. While
every precaution has been taken in the preparation of the book, neither the author nor
Peachpit shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage
caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this
book or by the computer software and hardware products described in it.
Trademarks
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products
are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and Peachpit
was aware of a trademark claim, the designations appear as requested by the owner of the
trademark. All other product names and services identified throughout this book are used
in editorial fashion only and for the benefit of such companies with no intention of infringement of the trademark. No such use, or the use of any trade name, is intended to convey
endorsement or other affiliation with this book.
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-79443-7
ISBN–10:
0-321-79443-5
987654321
Printed and bound in the United States of America

For my sister, Carol

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank and acknowledge several people for their support in
writing this book.
From Peachpit, Valerie Witte, who supported the idea of this book and kept it
moving forward; Anne Marie Walker, who skillfully edited with just the right mix
of demands and encouragement; designers Charlene Will and Danielle Foster,
who made the pages look so inviting; and the rest of the impressive team.
Platt College students, who often make the classroom magical with their
artistic focus and playful nature. The faculty and staff, who generously share
their time and knowledge; and the dean, Marketa Hancova, for her leadership
and inspiration.
My siblings, Marilyn and David, whom I can always count on.
My husband, Yashwin, who is not only an amazing photographer, but a constant
source of amusement, strength, and support.

Contents
Start Here
Chapt

er 1

All You Really Need to Know

viii
1

Messages, Messages, Messages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Make Your Messages Rise Above the Din . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Who Is Your Audience? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Chapter

2

Best Practices for Writing for the Web

13

Write Succinctly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Use a Conversational Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Use Precise Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Use Plain Terms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
List Items . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Keep Sentences Short . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Keep Paragraphs Short . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Chunk Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Title and Subtitle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Organize for Your Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Set the Right Tone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Chapter 3

Working with Images

31

Choose the Right Type of Image . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Keep the Message Clear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Telling a Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Think of the Global Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Using Tables, Charts, and Graphs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Contents

Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

Chapt

er 4

Adding Motion

45

Getting Started with Motion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Developing the Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Guidelines for Video and Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

Chapter

5

Adding Sound

57

Choosing Sounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Adding Sound Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
The Human Voice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Planning a Podcast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Recording Guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
Interviewing Techniques. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Chapter 6

Writing Nonlinear, Interactive Stories

73

Managing Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Adding Links . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Nonlinear, Interactive Stories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

Chapt

er 7

Writing Succinctly

83

Stay Focused . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Be Positive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Trust the Reader . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Choose Anglo-Saxon Words. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Eliminate Excess Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Stop Hype . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

v

vi

Contents

Chapter

8

Writing with Style and Good Grammar

93

Style or Grammar? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Choosing Your Style. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Grammar Rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106

Chapter 9

Telling a Good Story

107

What Makes a Good Story? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
Story Elements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
Developing Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Refine Your Senses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Jump In . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Start with a Hook. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
Add Cliff-hangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

Chapt

er 10

A Refresher on the Rhetorical Modes

117

Rhetorical Modes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
Rhetoric in Ancient Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
Making Web Content Credible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Rhetoric for Web Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Patterns and Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Images and Rhetoric . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126

Chapter

11

Writing Instructions

127

Know Your Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Begin with an Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Write Straightforward Steps. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Provide Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Show Motion with Video or Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
End on a Positive Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Test, Test, Test . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

Contents

Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140

Chapter 12

Writing Blogs

141

What Exactly Is a Blog? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Choosing Topics and Themes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
Composing a Succession of Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Sustaining Readership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152

Chapt

er 13

Re-vision

153

Writing Is Rewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
Workshops and Critiques. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
When Is Your Story Finished? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164

Chapter

14

Writing Practice

165

Freewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
Collaborative Freewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170
Suggested Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

Bibliography

175

Index

177

vii

Start Here
Think about the last gadget you bought. If you’re like most people, you felt
a rush of excitement when you opened the package and couldn’t wait to get
your hands on the new toy. It’s highly unlikely that you thought about reading the manual before you started pressing buttons and playing with your
new purchase.
FIGURE I.1
We reach for instructions
when all else fails.

Don’t Make Me Read
When a new object comes into your life, you simply want to point it in the right
direction and make it work. The “point-and-shoot mentality” extends to everything, not just new gadgets. If the product’s design is not intuitive, you’re likely
to think the designer was stupid or overzealous.
The same is true for Web content. When readers land on a Web page, they’re
not looking for Instructions for Use. Most don’t have much time, and most
don’t have patience. Readers just want to land on the right page, instantly
find what they’re looking for, and then zoom off. When they stumble onto long
paragraphs, when the text is unclear or boring, or when they find themselves
studying, searching, or backtracking, they jump ship and head back to Google
to search for better content.

Start Here

ix

HOW PEOPLE READ A WEB PAGE
In 1997, Jakob Nielsen pointed out that people don’t typically read text
on a Web page word for word. Rather, they scan, picking out words and
phrases that are helpful. See Jakob Nielsen’s October 1997 Alertbox column
“How Users Read on the Web,” which is available at www.useit.com.

Why You Should Read This Book
Most likely, you picked up this book because you want to better your skills at
writing Web content. With many books available about this topic, why should
you read this book?


It’s a thin book. Fat books typically don’t follow their own guidelines, such
as “be succinct”!



It’s designed to allow you to zoom in to find what you need, and then
quickly skip to another topic.



It encourages you to engage, to observe, to think, and to try various
effective writing tasks. The chapters are packed with examples, challenges,
and suggestions.



It focuses on words, pictures, and sounds as story elements for your Web
content rather than the mechanics of using specific software and tools.
There’s already a flood of good books available on how to use the latest
tools and technology to capture and publish media. (You’ll find suggestions
for good books to read at www.write4web.com.)

How to Read This Book
As you read this book, you’ll find there are no rules except to follow your own
instincts. You’ll get the most out of the book if you take breaks from reading to
try the suggestions and challenges.

Challenges
At the end of each chapter, you’ll find challenges that include writing prompts
for freewriting and suggested exercises that will take more time.
Make sure you spend time on your own writing practice. As with any other
discipline, the only way to get better at Web writing is to put in the time composing Web content. The art of creating compelling Web content is similar to
any other art. You can’t learn to dance by watching ballerinas. You can’t learn
to play the piano by listening to lectures or reading sheet music. Although it’s

t r y th is
Every chapter is
peppered with “Try this”
suggestions. Don’t ignore
these suggestions. You’ll
get the most out of this
book if you pause, put
down the book, and try the
ideas offered. You’ll learn
the most if you decide
right now to try everything
with a playful spirit and an
open mind.

x

Start Here

helpful to listen with a keen ear to the music you enjoy, that won’t place the
magic in your fingertips. A pianist practices scales. A pianist plays finger exercises. A talented pianist spends hours and hours at the keyboard. A talented
Web writer practices writing.
Consider all the suggestions, writing prompts, and assignments in this book
as part of your finger exercises and part of your practice, moving you toward
passionate, exciting Web stories.

More Information
You can find additional resources for Writing for the Web at www.write4web.com,
including:


Additional challenges. More freewriting and suggested exercises for your
writing practice.



Evaluation criteria. Suggestions for critiquing different types of Web writing.



Resources. Web sites that are good examples or provide helpful information,
reading lists, book reviews, and additional technical instructions.



Student work. Examples of student blogs and podcasts.



Teacher notes. A downloadable booklet with suggestions for teachers.

Chapt

er

1

All You Really Need
to Know
You’ve taken on a challenge that is exciting and fun, yet daunting—
writing for the Web. The tools and technology are incredible and allow
you to tell stories by mixing in any combination of multiple media—words,
pictures (including photos, illustrations, graphics, animation, and video),
and sound. You can also add opportunities for your reader to interact with
your stories by providing polls, surveys, places to comment, and links to
more information. The possibilities are unlimited.
There are so many choices to make. What will you write about? What do
you want your reader to take away from your story, to take action on, to
learn, or to understand? What media is the best fit for your story? How
will you draw in your reader? How will you make sure that your story gets
noticed? How will you keep your reader involved in the story?
Before all the exciting possibilities and challenges make you dizzy, take a
deep breath. Then read this chapter to learn:


How to make sure your story has three key features that will keep your
readers’ attention and ensure that they don’t become confused, bored,
or disinterested



How to determine who your audience is



How to stay on target, delivering the right content for your audience

2

writing for the web

Messages, Messages, Messages
There’s a message waiting for you at any place or any time. Even while you’re
hiking in Molokai (FIGURE 1.1 )!
FIGURE 1.1
Everywhere you turn there
are messages.

As you go about your daily business, you are barraged with countless messages and instructions. Walk, don’t run. Don’t point. Be a good neighbor. Be a
good citizen. Wash your hands. No spitting (FIGURE 1.2 ). Yield the right of way.
Stop. Go. Quiet!
What makes you accept some messages as truths and others as hogwash? What
makes you accept some instructions as the right thing to do and reject others?
FIGURE 1.2
And more messages.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

Discovering what motivates you to pay attention is helpful in figuring out what
will hold your readers’ attention.

Messages on the Web
On the Web you’ll also find a constant deluge of messages and instructions:


Read me



Click me



Buy me



Sign up for me

But you are not forced to follow any of the advice or instructions that appear
on your screen. As much as various ads and treatises on the Web try to get in
your face, you are the one in control. You choose what you will hold on to and
explore and what you will let go. And you can shut it all down in an instant
when you run out of time, get bored, or feel overwhelmed. This is a comforting
thought unless you are writing for the Web and don’t want your messages to be
turned off and shut down.
Let’s consider how viewers approach the fluid chaos of the Web and sort through
the myriad pieces of information to find exactly what suits their current needs.

Web Soup
The Web is a huge, soupy mess filled with stories and messages that are


Fascinating



Complicated



Boring



Hideous

Eye-opening



Brilliant

Scary



Stupid

Incredulous



Distasteful



Beautiful



Unintelligible



Ugly



Confusing

Superficial



All of the above and more







At every moment in time, more and more ugly, shocking, gruesome, dull, exotic,
and wonderful stories are added to the broth.
Web readers dip into this liquid mess with the help of various utensils, or
search engines. If they find what they want, they try it out. If they find something that doesn’t match their tastes and needs, they throw it back into the
soup and dip in again.
Think for a moment about the last time you were on the Internet. What were
you looking for? What actions did you take? What made you pay attention?
What made you ignore one story or a Web page in its entirety and move on to

3

4

writing for the web

Be obscure clearly! Be
wild of tongue in a way
we can understand!

something else? What enticed you? What made you look for
more? What was so good that you bookmarked it or told a
friend about it?

As a Web reader, it can be difficult to determine why you
choose one story over another. Your needs, your drives, your
wants, your dreams, your ambitions, and your sense of who
you are can change at any given point in time. What you
wanted as a child is different from what you want now. What you wanted yesterday can change dramatically tomorrow. Yet there is always some reason you
feel compelled to choose one story over another.
—E.B. White

As a Web author, you want to make sure that your Web content and messages reach the needs and desires of your intended readers and make them
pay attention.

Make Your Messages Rise
Above the Din
To make sure that your Web content gets noticed, you need to write about topics that will get sorted out of the soup and taste good to your readers. So how
can you make your Web stories so appetizing that your readers will keep coming back for more? Your content must have the following three characteristics:

CLARITY

SPARK

MEANING

Make Your Content Clear
Your content must be clear and obvious to readers. If it’s obtuse, confusing,
complicated, or unintelligible, you’ll lose readers’ attention.
What’s the purpose of your content? If you don’t know, your content probably
won’t be clear.
What are the key messages that you want your readers to take away? If you
don’t know, your content probably won’t be clear.
Who is the content written for? If you don’t know,…
In the following sections, you’ll find a few common problems that can make
your content hard to understand, along with suggestions for fixes.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

SHAGGY DOG STORIES
Shaggy dog refers to a story that winds and weaves on and on with one tangent
after another. Your readers can’t discern the direction or focus and wonder
when the story will end and what the point was.
You can fix this problem by writing down the main messages and key points of
your story. You should be able to state what the content is about in three sentences or less.
Consider the following shaggy dog story and possible solutions.
AIMLESS STORY

SOLUTIONS

Clarissa and her husband, Jeremy, were

Decide what the story is about, remove

married six months when Clarissa came

all the tangential information, and

home with a dog she had rescued from

relate the sequence of events that tell

the animal shelter. The dog, named

the main story you have in mind. For

Max, had a few bad habits. He liked the

example, perhaps the story is about

taste of leather and chewed up several

Clarissa’s mother interfering. Or maybe

pairs of Clarissa’s and Jeremy’s shoes.

it’s about newlyweds who want to

He also slept on the couch, which was

have children and decide to try out

not allowed, when no one was looking.

their parenting skills on a dog first. Or

Clarissa’s mother pointed out that the

maybe it’s about Jeremy losing his job

carpet needed vacuuming, and that

and feeling like Max’s nanny.

Sears had a sale on vacuums. Jeremy
lost his job. Then Jeremy had to stay
home and make sure Max didn’t eat
shoes and sleep on the couch.

TIME TRAVELING WITHOUT THE MACHINE
A time traveling story madly swerves in time. It shifts tenses within a single
sentence. It jumps from present to past to future without any transitions
or warnings. Your readers will feel like they’ve been in a car race without a
seatbelt.
You can fix this problem by sticking to past tense and not flashing back or
forward in time.
Consider the following time traveling sentence and the possible solution.
TENSE SHIFTS

SOLUTION

After I visit my friend Carly, I decided I

After I visited my friend Carly, I decided

wanted to travel and see the world.

I wanted to travel and see the world.

5

t r y th is
Write an elevator pitch
for your story. An elevator
pitch is a summary of
the story that you can
say in about 30 seconds,
the time it takes for an
average elevator ride.
Your pitch should make
someone want to read
the story.

6

writing for the web

FOGGY VISION
A foggy vision story has vague and general language or images. The content
isn’t explicit or specific. The detail is high level, and readers can’t get a clear
picture of what is going on.
You can fix this problem by knowing the specific terms and details your readers are familiar with and by using concrete nouns and active verbs to paint a
vivid story.
Consider the following example and possible solution.
VAGUE AND GENERAL TERMS

SOLUTION

Kristie was happy that her dad bought

Kristie danced around the red VW bug

her a vehicle for graduation.

her dad had just given her for graduation.

STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS THINKING
A stream-of-consciousness story follows a logic only known to you, the author,
because you simply spat out everything that was in your head and heart and
did not take the time to think of how your audience would follow the thoughts
and ideas. Freewriting is an effective way to brainstorm and get a story started.
But after the initial draft, you’ll need to reorganize the content in a way that
makes sense to your reader. Very few authors can get away with publishing
their first drafts. Jack Kerouac’s incredible, exciting stories rolled off his typewriter without revision. But this talent came with years of intense study.
You can often spot stream-of-consciousness Web content in the first sentence.
When authors begin with a tentative statement or seem to have several starts
before making any sense or point, you can tell that they posted their very first
outpouring without any attempt to revise the piece.
Although the following example is exaggerated to make a point, you can probably find a blog post on the Internet that begins just as tentatively.
STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

I’m not big on writing blogs, and I

Our cat, Fishbreath, has already lived

wasn’t sure what to write about. I am

nine lives.

writing this blog for my assignment.
I spent a lot of time looking around
our apartment for something to come
to me. Then I saw Fishbreath, our cat.
Fishbreath almost died more than once.
I decided to write about her near-death
experiences.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

CONFUSING LANGUAGE
At the sentence level, a story might contain misplaced modifiers, unclear pronouns, vague terminology, or ambiguous statements. Sometimes your readers
will get a big laugh, because the confusion makes the sentence comical.
Consider the following sentences and possible corrections.
UNCLEAR PRONOUN

CLEAR SENTENCE

Jane told Ginny that her boyfriend was

Jane said, “Ginny, your boyfriend is

amusing.

amusing.”

MISPLACED MODIFIER

CLEAR SENTENCE

Dressed with balsamic vinegar, Doug

Doug brought a salad with a balsamic

brought a salad to the potluck.

vinegar dressing to the potluck.

Give Your Content Spark
Everyone knows what it’s like to produce a dull, sleep-inducing story. Most
likely, it happens when you are barely awake as you are writing it.
If, as you are developing your content, you feel it lacks spark, take a break. Try
to recall a movie that you were totally lost in. Think of a game or a song that
was so seductive that you forgot where you were. Consider a TV show that you
didn’t want to end—a series that you recorded because you couldn’t wait to
watch the next episode. Then think about these questions:


What drew you in?



Was there a puzzle?



How did it start?



Was there danger?



Was there a cliff-hanger?



How did it end?

The more you know about what excites you, the more you will be able to add
spark to your own content.
Consider the following sentence with no spark and the possible solution.
NO SPARK
Some ideas came to me the other day,
and I have finally come up with a plan
and a vision.

SPARK
I have a dream.

7

8

writing for the web

t r y th is
If you find you are too
close to your subject
and the writing has
become dull and banal,
try techniques that a
photographer might use.
Change your vantage
point. Step back 500
feet. Remove the close-up
lens and try a wide-angle
lens. Pretend that you’re
on a balcony, 33 stories
up, looking down at your
subject.

Make Sure Your Content Matters
If you write about a subject that only you and your mother might find mildly
interesting, you’ll bore your readers, and they’ll move on.
If you write about topics that are the equivalent of humdrum daily routines,
like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast, you need to step away from the
keyboard and reenvision what topics inspire you. What are your passions? What
motivates you? What is it that you care deeply about?
The key to ensuring that your Web content has clarity, spark, and meaning is to
understand yourself and to understand your audience.

Who Is Your Audience?
When someone asks you who you are writing for, there’s a temptation to say,
“Everyone!” Everyone will be interested in this particular topic. But this is
not a good idea. If you try to meet everyone’s needs, your content will be too
broad and too general. It won’t have a clear drive, solid organization, or inviting
details. The most exciting topic for an octogenarian will most likely not work
for a tween. Neither of these age groups is likely to have an interest in how to
clean an oven or find a nanny.
If you’ve been to Toastmasters or taken a speech class, you’ve learned that it’s
best to gear your talk toward one person or a group of people in the audience
rather than the multitudes. It’s the same way with developing Web content.
When you have in mind a particular person or group, the language, the details,
the organization, the examples, the anecdotes, and the other parts of your content fit the expectations and tastes of someone rather than no one.
If your readers are not obvious, how can you determine who your audience is?
You can start by making lists of all your favorite activities. What excites you?
For each item, think of others who would also care about the activity.
For example, let’s say you are crazy about snowboarding and have decided to
design a blog site for snowboarding enthusiasts. Make a list of any friends and
associates who also love to snowboard. Add to the list names of snowboarders
you’ve seen on TV or read about. This is just a starting point.
You’ll then need to gather information about your audience.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

9

Get to Know Your Audience
Once you have a general idea of who your audience is and have made a list
of specific members of that group, you’ll have many ways to get to know your
audience better.
If you are writing about a subject that is near and dear to your heart, you’ll
have a huge head start on who your readers are and what topics they will like.
Here are a few suggestions to gather information:


Ask questions (phone, email, text, etc.).



Attend events (tradeshows, competitions, forums, etc.).



Watch TV and YouTube interviews of more famous people.



Read blogs or news stories.

Sometimes, however, you might be tasked to write for a group that you don’t
know well. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve just begun working in a biomedical company and you are tasked to write instructional guides for pharmacists.
You know that you need to focus only on pharmacists working in hospitals, not
those working in other environments, such as drugstores. Here are a few ways
in which you can try to get to know your audience:

When genuine passion
moves you, say what
you’ve got to say, and say
it hot.



Meet with pharmacists at their workplace. Take note
of the space, the furniture, any equipment, the colors,
the smells.



Ask questions. What is a typical day like? What are the
biggest concerns? What are the roadblocks? What or who
is most helpful? What are typical scenarios for tasks?



Read literature targeted for this group.



Talk to others who interact with this group. Does the
company have a customer service department? What sort of calls does
customer service get?



Volunteer to work for customer service or provide another service for
the group.

The main idea is to interact, ask appropriate questions, and obtain information
to better identify your readers and know their interests, issues, and needs.

—D.H. Lawrence



writing
for the
web

CREATING COMPELLING
WEB CONTENT USING WORDS,
PICTURES AND SOUND

LYNDA FELDER

Writing for the Web
Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words, Pictures and Sound
Lynda Felder
New Riders
1249 Eighth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
510/524-2178
510/524-2221 (fax)
Find us on the Web at www.newriders.com
To report errors, please send a note to [email protected]
New Riders is an imprint of Peachpit, a division of Pearson Education
Copyright 2012 by Lynda Felder
Associate Editor: Valerie Witte
Production Editor: Danielle Foster
Developmental Editor: Anne Marie Walker
Copyeditor: Anne Marie Walker
Proofreader: Scout Festa
Composition: Danielle Foster
Indexer: Joy Dean Lee
Cover Design: Charlene Charles-Will
Interior Design: Charlene Charles-Will and Danielle Foster
Photo Credits
Photo of Cuneiform script on clay tablet is in the public domain.
All other photos by Yashwin Chauhan. Yashwin Chauhan. All rights reserved.
Notice of Rights
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by
any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of the publisher. For information on getting permission for reprints and
excerpts, contact [email protected]
Notice of Liability
The information in this book is distributed on an “As Is” basis, without warranty. While
every precaution has been taken in the preparation of the book, neither the author nor
Peachpit shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage
caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this
book or by the computer software and hardware products described in it.
Trademarks
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products
are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and Peachpit
was aware of a trademark claim, the designations appear as requested by the owner of the
trademark. All other product names and services identified throughout this book are used
in editorial fashion only and for the benefit of such companies with no intention of infringement of the trademark. No such use, or the use of any trade name, is intended to convey
endorsement or other affiliation with this book.
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-79443-7
ISBN–10:
0-321-79443-5
987654321
Printed and bound in the United States of America

For my sister, Carol

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank and acknowledge several people for their support in
writing this book.
From Peachpit, Valerie Witte, who supported the idea of this book and kept it
moving forward; Anne Marie Walker, who skillfully edited with just the right mix
of demands and encouragement; designers Charlene Will and Danielle Foster,
who made the pages look so inviting; and the rest of the impressive team.
Platt College students, who often make the classroom magical with their
artistic focus and playful nature. The faculty and staff, who generously share
their time and knowledge; and the dean, Marketa Hancova, for her leadership
and inspiration.
My siblings, Marilyn and David, whom I can always count on.
My husband, Yashwin, who is not only an amazing photographer, but a constant
source of amusement, strength, and support.

Contents
Start Here
Chapt

er 1

All You Really Need to Know

viii
1

Messages, Messages, Messages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Make Your Messages Rise Above the Din . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Who Is Your Audience? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Chapter

2

Best Practices for Writing for the Web

13

Write Succinctly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Use a Conversational Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Use Precise Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Use Plain Terms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
List Items . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Keep Sentences Short . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Keep Paragraphs Short . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Chunk Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Title and Subtitle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Organize for Your Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Set the Right Tone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Chapter 3

Working with Images

31

Choose the Right Type of Image . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Keep the Message Clear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Telling a Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Think of the Global Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Using Tables, Charts, and Graphs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Contents

Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

Chapt

er 4

Adding Motion

45

Getting Started with Motion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Developing the Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Guidelines for Video and Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

Chapter

5

Adding Sound

57

Choosing Sounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Adding Sound Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
The Human Voice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Planning a Podcast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Recording Guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
Interviewing Techniques. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Chapter 6

Writing Nonlinear, Interactive Stories

73

Managing Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Adding Links . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Nonlinear, Interactive Stories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

Chapt

er 7

Writing Succinctly

83

Stay Focused . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Be Positive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Trust the Reader . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Choose Anglo-Saxon Words. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Eliminate Excess Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Stop Hype . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

v

vi

Contents

Chapter

8

Writing with Style and Good Grammar

93

Style or Grammar? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Choosing Your Style. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Grammar Rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106

Chapter 9

Telling a Good Story

107

What Makes a Good Story? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
Story Elements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
Developing Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Refine Your Senses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Jump In . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Start with a Hook. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
Add Cliff-hangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

Chapt

er 10

A Refresher on the Rhetorical Modes

117

Rhetorical Modes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
Rhetoric in Ancient Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
Making Web Content Credible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Rhetoric for Web Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Patterns and Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Images and Rhetoric . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126

Chapter

11

Writing Instructions

127

Know Your Audience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Begin with an Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Write Straightforward Steps. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Provide Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Show Motion with Video or Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
End on a Positive Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Test, Test, Test . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

Contents

Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140

Chapter 12

Writing Blogs

141

What Exactly Is a Blog? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Choosing Topics and Themes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
Composing a Succession of Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Sustaining Readership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152

Chapt

er 13

Re-vision

153

Writing Is Rewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
Workshops and Critiques. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
When Is Your Story Finished? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Up Next . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164

Chapter

14

Writing Practice

165

Freewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
Collaborative Freewriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170
Suggested Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

Bibliography

175

Index

177

vii

Start Here
Think about the last gadget you bought. If you’re like most people, you felt
a rush of excitement when you opened the package and couldn’t wait to get
your hands on the new toy. It’s highly unlikely that you thought about reading the manual before you started pressing buttons and playing with your
new purchase.
FIGURE I.1
We reach for instructions
when all else fails.

Don’t Make Me Read
When a new object comes into your life, you simply want to point it in the right
direction and make it work. The “point-and-shoot mentality” extends to everything, not just new gadgets. If the product’s design is not intuitive, you’re likely
to think the designer was stupid or overzealous.
The same is true for Web content. When readers land on a Web page, they’re
not looking for Instructions for Use. Most don’t have much time, and most
don’t have patience. Readers just want to land on the right page, instantly
find what they’re looking for, and then zoom off. When they stumble onto long
paragraphs, when the text is unclear or boring, or when they find themselves
studying, searching, or backtracking, they jump ship and head back to Google
to search for better content.

Start Here

ix

HOW PEOPLE READ A WEB PAGE
In 1997, Jakob Nielsen pointed out that people don’t typically read text
on a Web page word for word. Rather, they scan, picking out words and
phrases that are helpful. See Jakob Nielsen’s October 1997 Alertbox column
“How Users Read on the Web,” which is available at www.useit.com.

Why You Should Read This Book
Most likely, you picked up this book because you want to better your skills at
writing Web content. With many books available about this topic, why should
you read this book?


It’s a thin book. Fat books typically don’t follow their own guidelines, such
as “be succinct”!



It’s designed to allow you to zoom in to find what you need, and then
quickly skip to another topic.



It encourages you to engage, to observe, to think, and to try various
effective writing tasks. The chapters are packed with examples, challenges,
and suggestions.



It focuses on words, pictures, and sounds as story elements for your Web
content rather than the mechanics of using specific software and tools.
There’s already a flood of good books available on how to use the latest
tools and technology to capture and publish media. (You’ll find suggestions
for good books to read at www.write4web.com.)

How to Read This Book
As you read this book, you’ll find there are no rules except to follow your own
instincts. You’ll get the most out of the book if you take breaks from reading to
try the suggestions and challenges.

Challenges
At the end of each chapter, you’ll find challenges that include writing prompts
for freewriting and suggested exercises that will take more time.
Make sure you spend time on your own writing practice. As with any other
discipline, the only way to get better at Web writing is to put in the time composing Web content. The art of creating compelling Web content is similar to
any other art. You can’t learn to dance by watching ballerinas. You can’t learn
to play the piano by listening to lectures or reading sheet music. Although it’s

t r y th is
Every chapter is
peppered with “Try this”
suggestions. Don’t ignore
these suggestions. You’ll
get the most out of this
book if you pause, put
down the book, and try the
ideas offered. You’ll learn
the most if you decide
right now to try everything
with a playful spirit and an
open mind.

x

Start Here

helpful to listen with a keen ear to the music you enjoy, that won’t place the
magic in your fingertips. A pianist practices scales. A pianist plays finger exercises. A talented pianist spends hours and hours at the keyboard. A talented
Web writer practices writing.
Consider all the suggestions, writing prompts, and assignments in this book
as part of your finger exercises and part of your practice, moving you toward
passionate, exciting Web stories.

More Information
You can find additional resources for Writing for the Web at www.write4web.com,
including:


Additional challenges. More freewriting and suggested exercises for your
writing practice.



Evaluation criteria. Suggestions for critiquing different types of Web writing.



Resources. Web sites that are good examples or provide helpful information,
reading lists, book reviews, and additional technical instructions.



Student work. Examples of student blogs and podcasts.



Teacher notes. A downloadable booklet with suggestions for teachers.

Chapt

er

1

All You Really Need
to Know
You’ve taken on a challenge that is exciting and fun, yet daunting—
writing for the Web. The tools and technology are incredible and allow
you to tell stories by mixing in any combination of multiple media—words,
pictures (including photos, illustrations, graphics, animation, and video),
and sound. You can also add opportunities for your reader to interact with
your stories by providing polls, surveys, places to comment, and links to
more information. The possibilities are unlimited.
There are so many choices to make. What will you write about? What do
you want your reader to take away from your story, to take action on, to
learn, or to understand? What media is the best fit for your story? How
will you draw in your reader? How will you make sure that your story gets
noticed? How will you keep your reader involved in the story?
Before all the exciting possibilities and challenges make you dizzy, take a
deep breath. Then read this chapter to learn:


How to make sure your story has three key features that will keep your
readers’ attention and ensure that they don’t become confused, bored,
or disinterested



How to determine who your audience is



How to stay on target, delivering the right content for your audience

2

writing for the web

Messages, Messages, Messages
There’s a message waiting for you at any place or any time. Even while you’re
hiking in Molokai (FIGURE 1.1 )!
FIGURE 1.1
Everywhere you turn there
are messages.

As you go about your daily business, you are barraged with countless messages and instructions. Walk, don’t run. Don’t point. Be a good neighbor. Be a
good citizen. Wash your hands. No spitting (FIGURE 1.2 ). Yield the right of way.
Stop. Go. Quiet!
What makes you accept some messages as truths and others as hogwash? What
makes you accept some instructions as the right thing to do and reject others?
FIGURE 1.2
And more messages.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

Discovering what motivates you to pay attention is helpful in figuring out what
will hold your readers’ attention.

Messages on the Web
On the Web you’ll also find a constant deluge of messages and instructions:


Read me



Click me



Buy me



Sign up for me

But you are not forced to follow any of the advice or instructions that appear
on your screen. As much as various ads and treatises on the Web try to get in
your face, you are the one in control. You choose what you will hold on to and
explore and what you will let go. And you can shut it all down in an instant
when you run out of time, get bored, or feel overwhelmed. This is a comforting
thought unless you are writing for the Web and don’t want your messages to be
turned off and shut down.
Let’s consider how viewers approach the fluid chaos of the Web and sort through
the myriad pieces of information to find exactly what suits their current needs.

Web Soup
The Web is a huge, soupy mess filled with stories and messages that are


Fascinating



Complicated



Boring



Hideous

Eye-opening



Brilliant

Scary



Stupid

Incredulous



Distasteful



Beautiful



Unintelligible



Ugly



Confusing

Superficial



All of the above and more







At every moment in time, more and more ugly, shocking, gruesome, dull, exotic,
and wonderful stories are added to the broth.
Web readers dip into this liquid mess with the help of various utensils, or
search engines. If they find what they want, they try it out. If they find something that doesn’t match their tastes and needs, they throw it back into the
soup and dip in again.
Think for a moment about the last time you were on the Internet. What were
you looking for? What actions did you take? What made you pay attention?
What made you ignore one story or a Web page in its entirety and move on to

3

4

writing for the web

Be obscure clearly! Be
wild of tongue in a way
we can understand!

something else? What enticed you? What made you look for
more? What was so good that you bookmarked it or told a
friend about it?

As a Web reader, it can be difficult to determine why you
choose one story over another. Your needs, your drives, your
wants, your dreams, your ambitions, and your sense of who
you are can change at any given point in time. What you
wanted as a child is different from what you want now. What you wanted yesterday can change dramatically tomorrow. Yet there is always some reason you
feel compelled to choose one story over another.
—E.B. White

As a Web author, you want to make sure that your Web content and messages reach the needs and desires of your intended readers and make them
pay attention.

Make Your Messages Rise
Above the Din
To make sure that your Web content gets noticed, you need to write about topics that will get sorted out of the soup and taste good to your readers. So how
can you make your Web stories so appetizing that your readers will keep coming back for more? Your content must have the following three characteristics:

CLARITY

SPARK

MEANING

Make Your Content Clear
Your content must be clear and obvious to readers. If it’s obtuse, confusing,
complicated, or unintelligible, you’ll lose readers’ attention.
What’s the purpose of your content? If you don’t know, your content probably
won’t be clear.
What are the key messages that you want your readers to take away? If you
don’t know, your content probably won’t be clear.
Who is the content written for? If you don’t know,…
In the following sections, you’ll find a few common problems that can make
your content hard to understand, along with suggestions for fixes.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

SHAGGY DOG STORIES
Shaggy dog refers to a story that winds and weaves on and on with one tangent
after another. Your readers can’t discern the direction or focus and wonder
when the story will end and what the point was.
You can fix this problem by writing down the main messages and key points of
your story. You should be able to state what the content is about in three sentences or less.
Consider the following shaggy dog story and possible solutions.
AIMLESS STORY

SOLUTIONS

Clarissa and her husband, Jeremy, were

Decide what the story is about, remove

married six months when Clarissa came

all the tangential information, and

home with a dog she had rescued from

relate the sequence of events that tell

the animal shelter. The dog, named

the main story you have in mind. For

Max, had a few bad habits. He liked the

example, perhaps the story is about

taste of leather and chewed up several

Clarissa’s mother interfering. Or maybe

pairs of Clarissa’s and Jeremy’s shoes.

it’s about newlyweds who want to

He also slept on the couch, which was

have children and decide to try out

not allowed, when no one was looking.

their parenting skills on a dog first. Or

Clarissa’s mother pointed out that the

maybe it’s about Jeremy losing his job

carpet needed vacuuming, and that

and feeling like Max’s nanny.

Sears had a sale on vacuums. Jeremy
lost his job. Then Jeremy had to stay
home and make sure Max didn’t eat
shoes and sleep on the couch.

TIME TRAVELING WITHOUT THE MACHINE
A time traveling story madly swerves in time. It shifts tenses within a single
sentence. It jumps from present to past to future without any transitions
or warnings. Your readers will feel like they’ve been in a car race without a
seatbelt.
You can fix this problem by sticking to past tense and not flashing back or
forward in time.
Consider the following time traveling sentence and the possible solution.
TENSE SHIFTS

SOLUTION

After I visit my friend Carly, I decided I

After I visited my friend Carly, I decided

wanted to travel and see the world.

I wanted to travel and see the world.

5

t r y th is
Write an elevator pitch
for your story. An elevator
pitch is a summary of
the story that you can
say in about 30 seconds,
the time it takes for an
average elevator ride.
Your pitch should make
someone want to read
the story.

6

writing for the web

FOGGY VISION
A foggy vision story has vague and general language or images. The content
isn’t explicit or specific. The detail is high level, and readers can’t get a clear
picture of what is going on.
You can fix this problem by knowing the specific terms and details your readers are familiar with and by using concrete nouns and active verbs to paint a
vivid story.
Consider the following example and possible solution.
VAGUE AND GENERAL TERMS

SOLUTION

Kristie was happy that her dad bought

Kristie danced around the red VW bug

her a vehicle for graduation.

her dad had just given her for graduation.

STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS THINKING
A stream-of-consciousness story follows a logic only known to you, the author,
because you simply spat out everything that was in your head and heart and
did not take the time to think of how your audience would follow the thoughts
and ideas. Freewriting is an effective way to brainstorm and get a story started.
But after the initial draft, you’ll need to reorganize the content in a way that
makes sense to your reader. Very few authors can get away with publishing
their first drafts. Jack Kerouac’s incredible, exciting stories rolled off his typewriter without revision. But this talent came with years of intense study.
You can often spot stream-of-consciousness Web content in the first sentence.
When authors begin with a tentative statement or seem to have several starts
before making any sense or point, you can tell that they posted their very first
outpouring without any attempt to revise the piece.
Although the following example is exaggerated to make a point, you can probably find a blog post on the Internet that begins just as tentatively.
STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

I’m not big on writing blogs, and I

Our cat, Fishbreath, has already lived

wasn’t sure what to write about. I am

nine lives.

writing this blog for my assignment.
I spent a lot of time looking around
our apartment for something to come
to me. Then I saw Fishbreath, our cat.
Fishbreath almost died more than once.
I decided to write about her near-death
experiences.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

CONFUSING LANGUAGE
At the sentence level, a story might contain misplaced modifiers, unclear pronouns, vague terminology, or ambiguous statements. Sometimes your readers
will get a big laugh, because the confusion makes the sentence comical.
Consider the following sentences and possible corrections.
UNCLEAR PRONOUN

CLEAR SENTENCE

Jane told Ginny that her boyfriend was

Jane said, “Ginny, your boyfriend is

amusing.

amusing.”

MISPLACED MODIFIER

CLEAR SENTENCE

Dressed with balsamic vinegar, Doug

Doug brought a salad with a balsamic

brought a salad to the potluck.

vinegar dressing to the potluck.

Give Your Content Spark
Everyone knows what it’s like to produce a dull, sleep-inducing story. Most
likely, it happens when you are barely awake as you are writing it.
If, as you are developing your content, you feel it lacks spark, take a break. Try
to recall a movie that you were totally lost in. Think of a game or a song that
was so seductive that you forgot where you were. Consider a TV show that you
didn’t want to end—a series that you recorded because you couldn’t wait to
watch the next episode. Then think about these questions:


What drew you in?



Was there a puzzle?



How did it start?



Was there danger?



Was there a cliff-hanger?



How did it end?

The more you know about what excites you, the more you will be able to add
spark to your own content.
Consider the following sentence with no spark and the possible solution.
NO SPARK
Some ideas came to me the other day,
and I have finally come up with a plan
and a vision.

SPARK
I have a dream.

7

8

writing for the web

t r y th is
If you find you are too
close to your subject
and the writing has
become dull and banal,
try techniques that a
photographer might use.
Change your vantage
point. Step back 500
feet. Remove the close-up
lens and try a wide-angle
lens. Pretend that you’re
on a balcony, 33 stories
up, looking down at your
subject.

Make Sure Your Content Matters
If you write about a subject that only you and your mother might find mildly
interesting, you’ll bore your readers, and they’ll move on.
If you write about topics that are the equivalent of humdrum daily routines,
like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast, you need to step away from the
keyboard and reenvision what topics inspire you. What are your passions? What
motivates you? What is it that you care deeply about?
The key to ensuring that your Web content has clarity, spark, and meaning is to
understand yourself and to understand your audience.

Who Is Your Audience?
When someone asks you who you are writing for, there’s a temptation to say,
“Everyone!” Everyone will be interested in this particular topic. But this is
not a good idea. If you try to meet everyone’s needs, your content will be too
broad and too general. It won’t have a clear drive, solid organization, or inviting
details. The most exciting topic for an octogenarian will most likely not work
for a tween. Neither of these age groups is likely to have an interest in how to
clean an oven or find a nanny.
If you’ve been to Toastmasters or taken a speech class, you’ve learned that it’s
best to gear your talk toward one person or a group of people in the audience
rather than the multitudes. It’s the same way with developing Web content.
When you have in mind a particular person or group, the language, the details,
the organization, the examples, the anecdotes, and the other parts of your content fit the expectations and tastes of someone rather than no one.
If your readers are not obvious, how can you determine who your audience is?
You can start by making lists of all your favorite activities. What excites you?
For each item, think of others who would also care about the activity.
For example, let’s say you are crazy about snowboarding and have decided to
design a blog site for snowboarding enthusiasts. Make a list of any friends and
associates who also love to snowboard. Add to the list names of snowboarders
you’ve seen on TV or read about. This is just a starting point.
You’ll then need to gather information about your audience.

Chapter 1 : All You Really Need to Know

9

Get to Know Your Audience
Once you have a general idea of who your audience is and have made a list
of specific members of that group, you’ll have many ways to get to know your
audience better.
If you are writing about a subject that is near and dear to your heart, you’ll
have a huge head start on who your readers are and what topics they will like.
Here are a few suggestions to gather information:


Ask questions (phone, email, text, etc.).



Attend events (tradeshows, competitions, forums, etc.).



Watch TV and YouTube interviews of more famous people.



Read blogs or news stories.

Sometimes, however, you might be tasked to write for a group that you don’t
know well. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve just begun working in a biomedical company and you are tasked to write instructional guides for pharmacists.
You know that you need to focus only on pharmacists working in hospitals, not
those working in other environments, such as drugstores. Here are a few ways
in which you can try to get to know your audience:

When genuine passion
moves you, say what
you’ve got to say, and say
it hot.



Meet with pharmacists at their workplace. Take note
of the space, the furniture, any equipment, the colors,
the smells.



Ask questions. What is a typical day like? What are the
biggest concerns? What are the roadblocks? What or who
is most helpful? What are typical scenarios for tasks?



Read literature targeted for this group.



Talk to others who interact with this group. Does the
company have a customer service department? What sort of calls does
customer service get?



Volunteer to work for customer service or provide another service for
the group.

The main idea is to interact, ask appropriate questions, and obtain information
to better identify your readers and know their interests, issues, and needs.

—D.H. Lawrence

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