Writing for the Web: Show Authors How the Sausage is Made

In October and August, I had the pleasure of teaching a day-long Writing for the Web course for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (principals.org).  Sarah Lile, NASSP’s go-getter web editor, invited me to teach and managed the course logistics.  

I did my Writing for the Web thing for NASSP. I showed lots of relevant web examples, broke down the task of writing for online readers into essential skills, and gave participants hands-on web writing practice and feedback.  Both courses went great!  In fact, one participant commented “… [the class is] eye-opening and helps to clarify the time, effort, and ‘science’ necessary to have a great website.”

But Sarah did something that few of my clients do, and I think her 15 minutes of the course made all the difference.  Sarah did a short, focused presentation on the process of publishing web content at the principals.org site.  She showed course participants how the CMS works and what the content contribution screens look like in the CMS.  She explained how much hand-coding is involved in the publishing process and how those “pretty” documents the content authors were sending her, the ones loaded with MS Word’s crummy code, require hours of scrubbing before they look right online.  Most of the content authors had no idea about the steps required for their content to be published at the site, so Sarah’s presentation during the Writing for the Web course was an eye-opener with lots of long-lasting positive outcomes.  Content authors gained

  • More respect for the web team’s time
  • More reasonable expectations for how long it takes the web team to publish content
  • Understanding of how the CMS supports good online communication.  For example, the content authors saw the title and abstract fields in the CMS content contribution screen. They now realize that their content will need a good title and a short abstract.  They are motivated to write these elements themselves because they understand that Sarah and her team can’t be experts on everyone’s content.

So all you web content managers out there, let your content authors know how the sausage is made.  They can’t really participate properly unless they know how the process works. 

— Leslie O’Flahavan

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