Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Teaching Writing for the Web

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Writing for the Web[edit]

Writing for the Web demands more than an understanding of proper mechanical and grammatical writing techniques and rules. Unfortunately, these techniques and rules are often the last focus of Web-based writing. Within Internet writing, delivery becomes the main focus. Known as the 5th Canon of writing, delivery becomes essential to an audience's reaction and willingness to view what has been written. If you are writing for a corporate site, or a personal blog, delivery will decide if an audience will exist. In this way, the lines distinguishing writing and marketing begin to blur.


Some of the focal points given more prominence during the process of Web-writing are:

  • Understanding target audience.
  • Speed at which a web-page can be uploaded.
  • Use of color and imagery to capture and sway an audience.
  • Long-term affect of writing in a public forum.
  • Everything published on the web can be found.

Writing for the Web can offer any individual the opportunity to be published. The words placed on-line when one is 15 will most likely still exist when they are 95 years old. Corporations and hiring agencies WILL scour the web to find out more information on a potential employee or customer. For this reason, understanding what students are writing and sharing online may affect their future.

Also, on-line writing allows students to include voice recordings, pictures and images, video clips, and typed words. Graphics and fonts change the meaning of words just as much as a well-chosen synonym will. In this then, Web-based writing demands an understanding beyond the well structured paragraph.

Audience and Writing[edit]

An understanding of online audience is key for students. Most students have a natural understanding of this concept. The majority of students born after 1981 can be considered digital natives. A digital native is someone who has grown up around, and using, digital and Internet technology. For these students, the techniques needed for quality online writing will center around grammar, mechanics, and subject matter. For students not considered digital natives, achieving an appropriate length for the document will be a major goal.


Below are a few Web writing tips your audience will appreciate:

Be concise. Writing for the Web requires relaying your message concisely and succinctly and omitting unnecessary words. A good rule to follow is to write 50 percent less for the Web than you would for a hardcopy publication. Consider using bulleted lists for important points.

Write for scanning. Write so readers can scan the text. If the Web page contains long blocks of text the reader will grow weary and leave your page. The back door is only a click away. Guide the reader through the page and/or site by using headlines, lists and bold/italic formatting for emphasis.

Chunk large amounts of information. Carefully dividing material into shorter blocks can help maintain an engaged reader. Appropriately dividing the material or "chunking" is a great way to break up long blocks of continuous text. Chunking also helps limit the length of the Web page. Readers usually prefer shorter pages.

On the other hand, avoid fragmentation. Over-subdividing the information can overwhelm and frustrate the reader. An information chunk should have give the appropriate amount of background, context and amount of information. Use links to other pages that provide supporting information.

Use links effectively. Links can support your material by providing further background information, adding detail, and expanding on related concepts.

Proper formatting. Always start with a headline and use subheads throughout the page. Remember, readers are scanning the page looking for specific topics. Headlines and subheads provide an outline to guide the reader's eyes. Providing a summary paragraph at the beginning of longer documents can help orient the reader to the page's contents. Use italics for emphasis and to make your text more conversational.

Corporate Writing[edit]

Writing on Social Networking Platforms[edit]

Within a Social writing space, such as Myspace and Facebook, as well as blog providers like Wordpress and Blogger, the length of a composition is key. Within the blogging sections of these spaces, any document consisting of more than 300 words is considered excess. People who write often on-line instinctively know, with the help of these visit counters, what length of entry will keep, and lose, an audience. The average length of time a reader spends scanning a web page is 5-15 seconds. Effective blog entries are thus typically shorter in length. Many of the social sites now offer a viewing tally and useful tools to view page analytics.

Microblogging has thoroughly imbued writing practice on social networking sites. Twitter has quickly become was one the most widely used online social networking services and is founded on posting "tweets" of 140 characters or less. Facebook, in an effort to compete with microblogging platforms such as Twitter, now enables users to post status updates of up to 420 characters in length.

The constraints of microblogging has required users to pay close attention to minute details, clarity, and of course, concise language on their posts. Microblogging is an excellent way to provide instant updates on anything from news to personal details. While some users on Twitter choose to dedicate their profiles to their personal life, others find it suitable for professional networking opportunities.

Microblogging also poses a unique potential area for creative writing. Flash fiction, and more genres like micropoetry and flarf, display the unique opportunities of constrained writing on the Internet.

Your Words will follow You[edit]

The words written today will exist tomorrow. This is the belief of many internet users. For the most part, they are correct. Any document, photo, video, and podcast can be recorded or photographed by another computer user. For this reason, one of the most important concepts students must learn is that their words are not just part of the current moment.

Visual Awareness[edit]

Use of Video and Graphics[edit]

Not everyone in the world has high-speed internet. For this reason, one of the first writing concepts of web content deals with upload speed. Upload speed will affect how quickly an audience can view the information you are trying to share. In the early years of the internet web-designers would incorporate intricate images and graphics that would start up as soon as a page was opened. This slows down upload speed. Though fun to view, these graphic openings have since been considered bad practice, because viewers do not wish to wait for the upload to be completed.