Writing Online Articles

Charl Fregona Advanced, Developing Digital Skills, Learning Series

ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY PEN LISTER OCT 29, 2014
Writing articles for reading online

Writing content for online audiences presents additional challenges and considerations to those that involve printed forms of academic and journal article writing. Online publishing isn’t only about knowing how to use your blogging platform or a text editor – it’s also about understanding how internet users find and read pages onscreen. Additionally, internet browsers are available on any number of differently sized devices and any number of browser software applications can be used to access onscreen pages. These issues all impact how your article comes across, how it is found, how it is read or downloaded or saved for later.

Listed below are some basic aspects that you need to know more about when creating online content . Further useful resources can be found here also.

1. Principles of written content online
Design Conventions

We write differently for:

  • academic articles or research papers
  • magazine or newspapers
  • web articles
Your expectations as a user are different:
  • You hate it if paragraphs are too long
  • You hate it if the font is too small
  • You hate it if you don’t get many headings and subheadings
  • What else do you hate?
Accessibility/Usability:
  • Clear sections help with accessibility technology or learning disabilities
  • Remember, internet literacy levels are commonly around the age of fourteen. Though academic literacy is somewhat higher than this, it’s  important to be clear and succinctfor academics whose first language is not English,
Copyright
  • Intellectual property is an important consideration, and most especially for academics as we are role models  both for our students and the wider community
2. Planning Your Online Content
The Title
  • When you construct your title, imagine seeing it on a search engine results page – does it tell the reader what the article is about?
  • Shorter is better than longer
  • The link is the title, the title is the link
Standfirst and Introduction
  • The standfirst is often the small piece of text that you see directly under the title in search results or article list pages. Standfirsts are also known as a snapshot, or a short summary. What is a standfirst? It tells the reader what the article is about, usually in less than 150 characters. Twitter tweets are 140 characters – they are like a standfirst.
  • Introductions are like longer standfirsts – a succinct 300 word summary
Images, videos and audio (podcasts)
  • Images help the reader to visualise what your article is about. They help when you search and browse articles, catching your attention. Legal sources of images are everywhere, look for ‘free images’, ‘copyright free images’, or ‘creative commons images’
  • Video is everywhere, to help create ‘added value’ to your articles, search YouTube or Vimeo, as well as general video searches to find great academic and skills content to use
  • Audio can be very useful too, for some articles. people like downloading podcasts to listen to later. You could even make your own
Headlines, paragraphs, bullet points
  • Simplify, don’t dumb down
  • Use language that is clear. Remember that many people may read your article who do not have english as a first language. They may wish to use Google translate too, so using specialist words a lot will not help them to understand and get the best out of what you have written. This does not mean dumbing down the content, it means thinking clearly about points you want to make, and being succinct and efficient in how you make them.
  • Chunk your content. Its important to deal with sections of content so that readers can skim as well as read in depth. A common habit of web reading is to skim and then save for later, using applications like Pocket. Use of good headings and sub headings will make a huge difference to how people read, as well as help search engines to ‘see’ your content and add it to relevant search results.
  • Use lists – bullet points and numbered lists to make your content clear.
  • Helping Google ‘see’ your article: As well as using good headings and subheadings, it’s a good idea to use terms and words that others might use when writing about similar content – this is how Google will decide if your article is relevant to suitable search results. Use links to other articles that are relevant and good to add, as Google will also see those links in your article to measure relevance.
Downloads
  • Try not to share Word docs or PowerPoints – use PDF print copies instead. It means that anyone can open those files, whereas using Microsoft Office files is expecting users to have that software (or similar) on their machines in order to open those files.
  • If you want to give media download links (video or audio) indicate that they are for downloading, not playing – often this might be done by saying ‘right-click/save as’ or using a file compression like Winzip or 7-Zip to make that easy.
  • Don’t share copyrighted material – make sure you have necessary permission to add a file as a download on your article
3. Publishing considerations
Multiple Devices
  • People will read your article using a number of different devices, not only desktop machines. While this might not impact your preparation directly, it is always important to imagine a user reading your article on their smartphone or mini tablet. This helps you to know how important it is to simplify and be succinct with your content, and make it easy to scan.
Sharing
  • You, as well as other people can and should share your articles. So make that easy for them, and draw attention to sharing. A shared article will likely have a lot more hits (reads) than one that is not shared. Use LinkedIn – especially relevant LinkedIn groups – and Twitter to share academic articles, as this is where those people are. You may be pleasantly surprised that people might retweet you or even comment on what you have written.
Comments
  • Comments on your articles are important as they encourage others to read them and also tell Google that your articles are high quality content. Comments which appear directly underneath your article, or comments in LinkedIn or Twitter can all help to create an atmosphere of useful and relevant content, both for individual readers but also for Google. So it’s important to respond in a timely manner to any comments you get.
4. Useful Tips
Better save than sorry
  • Use Word or Evernote to write your articles, then copy and paste into the online system, don’t work directly online if you can help it as things can go wrong! You might lose your internet connection, and if you forgot to save the draft, you’ve lost everything. If you have to work directly online, save your draft regularly, that way, if you do lose your connection, you won’t have lost everything.
Write as yourself, speak to one person
  • Read other blogs and sources like Times Higher or Inside Higher Ed, or other Edublogs, to try to gauge your ‘voice’.
  • Speak to one person, don’t deliver a lecture – it works much better to think of a single person reading your article.
  • Read it back aloud if you’re unsure – this is a great way of finding out about flow.
Preview, spellcheck, practise!
  • Preview your article before publishing to see how things look before you publish, remember, things like titles are difficult to change once you’ve published, as they often get sent to RSS feeds or Facebook pages straight away (automatically). This means even if you edit the article itself, the shared version remains unchanged.
  • Check spelling and grammar, and just practise your writing craft.
  • It’s not for everyone, but most people adjust to online content creation quite quickly, and soon feel at ease.
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