COM0015, Assignment 5: Writing and Editing for the Web

I am a 25-year publishing professional—writing, editing, photographing, desktop publishing and managing newspapers, magazines and journals. The majority of my work has been in print and I have personally experienced the decline in this industry. To help me transition into online and social media platforms, I am taking various courses and seminars.

One such seminar was Writing and Editing for the Web through the Ottawa-Gatineau Branch of Editors Canada I read printed material differently than I read web pages and I don’t think I’m alone. I wanted to learn the difference so I could better use online platforms to meet my readers’ wants and needs.

Moira White of Ubiquitext and past president of Editors Canada presented the full-day seminar on Nov. 24. I was particularly interested in learning techniques that draw readers to web pages and creating engaging content to keep them there longer.

For Moira, the answer to my question of how people read online today is simple: They don’t! (How’s that for a quotable quote? lol) Most people skim for information.

As a November 2013 report showed (a reference was not provided), more people get information on their mobile devices than their laptop and desktop computers. Mobile devices have narrower columns of text, giving the illusion of longer, more intimidating paragraphs. I need to remember to provide bite-sized chunks of information in smaller paragraphs because of that one fact.

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During the Writing and Editing for the Web seminar for Editors Canada, Moira White explains how writers encode and readers decode information. Depending on the medium writers choose to share their messages, readers can provide feedback, creating a loop.

As well, people retain less information when reading online, which makes organizing information into small chunks and providing plenty of headings even more important.

Moira suggests writing for the web should answer only three questions in this order:

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

This gets the take-home message out quickly and succinctly, then provides context before making a call to action.

She also suggests starting each paragraph with a topic sentence (remember those from grade school?) For those who don’t remember, the first sentence of each paragraph introduces what the rest of the paragraph will be about. If readers want more information, they will read it. If not, they go to the next paragraph.

Networking While Learning

Sitting at the table with me were Jean Forrest from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Nikki Burke from Statistics Canada. Most of our discussion was about change: in our work environments, in language and in technology. Although neither uses social media, I shared that I am taking Algonquin College’s Social Media certificate program in hopes to expanding beyond print. Because the program doesn’t cover the basics about how to use each social media platform, I’m reading Social Media for Writers: Marking Strategies for Building Your Audience and Selling Books (Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine, 2015). I pulled the book out of my purse as I was reading it on the bus, and they each wrote down the name.

I also talked with Tricia Diduch from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and Josephine Versace from the Government of Canada Translation Bureau during the lunch break. Along with talking about the seminar content, we discussed social media, Algonquin’s program and my search for social media basics and best practices. They were also interested in finding best practices and said they would talk with social media people in their offices and email me information, which I need to follow up about.

As an Editors Canada member, I get a $125 discount on each of their seminars. The majority of the six seminars I took last year and two I’ve already taken this year (I have one more in March), have been invaluable. I expect I will take more next year. I highly recommend them.

COM0014 – Personal Brand

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Hi, I’m Sheila. Nice to meet you. I’m here to help you grow your business using a detail-oriented, well-managed approach and digital marketing and communications. I hope you’ll allow me to add remarkable and distinctive value to your business through blogging, social media, workshop events, writing for your website and email marketing. I’m nerd chic in several departments and proud of it!

Here’s a sample of what I’m all about:

Foreseer of Needs

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I became a digital packrat. That is, I developed a knack for collecting data about stuff. Any stuff would do. The number of hours we spent monthly on something, the price of stuff this year and last year and the year before that, the ideas everyone came up with but didn’t have the time or money to execute. You name it, I collected it. Usually on Excel spreadsheets so I could play with the data in ways that made me smile. This might seem like a waste of time until one day when you ask me something like this:

“Sheila, do you know how many jiggity-jiggets we made in April 2011?”

I give you the answer within two minutes and apologize for being so slow.

Error Sleuth / Assassin

How do you spend your time during an evening of eating, drinking and making merry? Know anyone who enjoys finding errors on restaurant menus when out for a night of fun? If you said no, then you’ve obviously never been out to dinner with me. Just ask my family members who somehow tolerate the game I call “Magic, The Gathering . . . of Proofreaders”:

Sheila: “Did you see this?”

Family: “WHAT?” (anticipating some sickeningly bizarre food item).

Sheila: “Look how they spelled ESCARGOT! Jeeeezzz!”

Family: “Uh yeah” (rolling eyes), “that’s just awful. Have you decided what you’re ordering?”

When this pastime of mine is used in business, the errors have no chance. They’re hiding. And I guarantee you, they are there. I will find them and chop their heads off before they have a chance to go out in public. They are dead meat when I’m proofing or editing your stuff.

Chaos Tamer

For a Chaos Tamer, this is where business gets really fun:

Your business is a zoo and someone has to control the critters with the big claws. Are you the CEO of a small company or not-for-profit and have more ideas than staff to execute them? Do you switch gears every five minutes because you just can’t NOT do something every time a thought pops into your head? Do you use nouns like “planning – schmlanning”? If yes, then you need me. I will tame the crazy-factor and force you (temporarily) to stop being a visionary while we decide how to execute the last ten ideas you had in the same number of hours. Some people think organizing and planning is a waste of  time because there’s work to do. Those people went out of business. Don’t be one of them.

Mistress of Ideas / Content Creator

I’m a writer. I have no idea where these ideas come from. They just keep popping into my head. Sometimes my fingers hurt because I can’t type as fast as I think them up. It’d be such a shame to waste all this great stuff. Let’s use these cool ideas to tell the stories you want your customers or donors to know. Whatever they need – information, training, entertainment, a call to action – you name it. I’ll cast my spells while we develop a relationship with them and keep them returning for more. They’re going to be your biggest fans.

And now, a little game for all you copywriters and proofreaders out there. Let’s play Spot the Typo! Somewhere in this post is a teensy-weensy error. Tell me in the comments if you find it!