Don’t Endow Me
Anyone who has had to give a demonstration, deliver a report, or teach a class knows the importance of tuning the information to the audience. Anyone who been to a class that involves learning software knows that students is likely to include folks new to the subject and the most savvy experts who want to refine their skills.
Sharing information with people is easier, more efficient, and more meaningful …
- when we’re speaking one-to-one and can tailor the information to that individual.
- when the people receiving the information offer feedback about the information they’re receiving.
- when we know the experience of the people who are receiving the information.
- when all of the people who are receiving the information are from the same culture, speak the same first language, are at the same functional level, have the same skills, and relate to the topic the same way we do.
It’s hard to do these when we’re working with a group that is all in the same room. This problem becomes even more difficult on the web. Here, we’re tasked to share information meaningfully when we’re in a new genre and blind to the audience. We’re writing for an unknown number of people who could be from anywhere and know absolutely nothing on our subject or have significantly more experience than we do.
How Do We Write Meaningful Content for People We Can’t See?
Writing for the web gets easier when we realize the words carry a different load than words in print. Words online are lit and hit the eye differently. People access them with a different intent. It’s a different experience to read a device than to read a book. It’s different experience to read and respond to a blog than to read a newspaper and write an email back.
I’ve been repurposing content and publishing online and offline since the 20th century. Here are some tips about transitioning and writing content for the web.
- Titles Are Invitations. The title of this post tells you exactly what you get by reading it. Had I more metaphorically called this Snapshots of Web Writing, you might have thought this would feature pictures and writing samples. Use a title to attract people who want exactly the content that will be under it.
- Brevity is Beautiful. Fifty-one word sentences and half-page paragraphs don’t work with the backlighted, fast-paced format of the web. Attention in harder to keep in this visual venue. Long sentences lose their meaning before we get to the end of them. Long paragraphs have the same effect. Easy to read can still be intelligent … To be or not to be. is possibly the most easily read graduate level sentence ever written. Short words are powerful tool.
- Subheads Are Relevancy Signposts that Show Respect. When we break up content with subheads, we give people a chance to know what’s coming next. Readers have so little time. When we offer a simple subject that telegraphs the idea in the next section, we allow them an option to choose whether to skip ahead. Who wouldn’t appreciate that to having to crawl through unwanted information searching for what we really need?
- Everyone likes to learn. No one likes to be taught. Often we take our responsibility to share information so seriously that we undercut our own effectiveness. We stand at the podium hoping it will give us expertise so that our words will be heard. If we step away from being the “sage on the stage,” and instead take on the role of the “guide at the side,” we can share what we’ve learned rather than tell what we know.
- Write for one person who wants to know what you know. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by writing to a diverse group. Think individuals and include yourself. It’s WE — the audience and me — not me and them. We write more effectively when we consider what we’d want to learn. Write for someone intelligent and savvy as yourself, who wants to know or be reminded of what you know.
Great titles, short paragraphs, small words, subheads for navigation, a learner’s voice, and content leveled and chosen by you as a partner with the audience <-- that's a formula for transitioning content to the web. Have you repurposed content for the web? What have you found works best? --ME "Liz" Strauss Liz can help with a problem you're having with your writing, check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.
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