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eduWEB: the role of writers

September 15th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

One of the purposes of the eduWeb conference was to bring together marketing and web people. One show of hands suggested that the audience was evenly split. I myself am fairly evenly split, having written both PHP code and annual reports – both coder and copywriter.

According to Sarah Stanek, Senior Writer at California State University East Bay, the underappreciated members of the web team are the writers. Writers need to be at the first web meeting, not the last. They need to become trusted as the content authority. The writer should be the managing editor on the Web team. Professional writers can offer four things: ability, authority, access, and accuracy.

How can experienced writers make a website better?

  1. They can encourage each member of the team to agree in advance on word count, voice, content lifespan.
  2. They can help to break log jams in the workflow. Stanek’s advice: ask for corrections and edits to the website, make them, acknowledge they’ve been made, then go live.
  3. For students, they can provide deadlines. For administrators, they can suggest topics to write about.
  4. They can help review blog posts before publishing, if necessary. “Boring is okay, long and boring is not,” says Stanek. Moderate comments quickly. Don’t be afraid to close comments either.
  5. They can write interview questions (but not the answers). Put ideas in their heads, then put cameras in their faces.

Under the influence of social media, some web strategists are calling for professionally-generated content (such as marketing copy) to be replaced by user-generated content (such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter) because “it sounds more authentic.” But Stanek sternly insists that professional writers do not sound inauthentic.

In fact, says Stanek, “student bloggers write about ten times more formally than I do.” At a major university, over-formality may be a more serious problem than students writing ungrammatically. But that’s a whole other issue: where do people get the idea that stilted writing makes them sound smarter? I think the University Writing Center has a 12-step program for that…

True, journalists who cut their teeth writing for newspapers and magazines need to adapt their style for the Web, but any professional knows how to adapt. Writers have had to deal with an electronically-oriented audience for a long time.

Besides, in the past forty years, people haven’t changed as much as all that, even if buzzwords have. “Blogging is not a meaningful verb,” Stanek says. “The word is writing.” Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message,” in 1964. That is, simply because a story moves from a newsletter to the Web, the message changes. If only because the screen is harder on the eyes than paper, writing for the Web needs to be shorter and scannable.

A “pencast” of The Role of Writers session (audio synchronized with notes) is available.

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Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 Web Content
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2 Comments to eduWEB: the role of writers

  1. Michael, just got a Google Alert about your mention of my conference and first, thank you for acknowledging us; second, I greatly sympathize with your posting on writing. I myself am not a great writer; an “okay/good” one, but I admire and respect great writers and the Internet has skewed greatly the importance of this field. I saw an movie a couple of months ago starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams that reminded me of your post (it was titled: “State of Play”). Russell’s character was reminding Rachel, the young reporter who “blogged” her stories, to remember the traditional ways of writing and reporting. Traditional methods should not be swept under the rug but remembered when it’s proper to integrate them into today’s media mediums.

  2. Shelley Wetzel on September 16th, 2009
  3. […] eduWeb – The Role of Writers […]

  4. Wayne State Web Communications Blog » Blog Archive » [Friday Links] The Conference Edition on September 18th, 2009

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