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ENGL 4169/5169: Web Content Writing

Spring 2018

Prof M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
mmorgan@bemidjistate.edu • twitter: @mcmorgan @thisisonline
Course url: http://erhetoric.org/WebWritingAndDesign/


For the first part of the course, we'll read and discuss information architecture and industry-favored principles of web content. For the second part of the course, we'll read and discuss What Else Could Be Done.

Required Text

Steve Krug. Don't Make Me Think, revisited, 3rd ed. New Riders, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0321965516

We'll work with with a few chapters each week for the first few weeks. The focus in this book is less on writing and more on web design and usability - the interface, basically, and the new situation of reading text and writing text for that way of reading.

Lynch and Horton. Web Style Guide, 3rd ed. online at http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/. This is the Elements of Style when it comes to web design and content writing. You can buy it in print on Amazon or elsewhere.

Other texts and materials to be assigned from about week 5 on.


Writing directly in the wiki works fine - as long as you save often. But if you want to work offline, I recommend a markdown editor (google markdown editor +[your operating system]), but any text editor will do. You can also use the wiki for drafting. Do not use MS Word. Please. It adds code to the text files that make formatting on the web a mess. Rule 1 of Writing for the Web is to use a text editor rather than a word processor. Google "text editor"+ your computing platform of choice.

Course Statement

This course looks at the current rhetorical and social conventions of web content writing and seeks to challenge them. The first part of the course gives you the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of web design and writing as it is currently practiced. For this we'll be using Krug's Don;t Make Me Think, Revisited 3rd edition.

The second part of the course focuses on what the current state of the web is not good at doing: the limits and preconceptions we have to the web that keeps it corralled. For this, we'll be using a collection of print and online sources that I'll distribute. These will be readings in theory, history, origins that we will use as springboards for discussion and writing.

Here's a review of the scholarly problem this course addresses:

At its invention (1989), web writing was to be interactive and hypertextual. But very soon, it became centralized and limited in design. It became driven by commercial institutions and values, using staid and conservative print-based rules and conventions. Interactivity was pushed to the edges. Hypertextual potentials were set aside. Design that might have re-made how we read and write over-looked.

Web content writing as it is typically taught has become industrial - formulaic, hobbled by commercial aims and returns, and shaped as mass communication to mass audiences. The industry watchword is Don'tMakeMeThink. The one-to-many stylistic conventions of writing of Clarity, Brevity, and Sincerity have been imported unthinkingly. As a result, the web has not moved much. Hypertext is not being used to address the potential it has.

But web content writing does not need to follow mass communication models of writing of one-to-many. The web is a publishing platform that can stand outside of mass comm interests as a many-to-many network. It can be a one-to-one medium, where writers (professionals, amateurs, others) can address readers individually, and where writers can take alternative approaches to their work, think of audiences in alternative ways, employ the affordances of web writing in ways that challenge both themselves and readers.

This course takes as its subject its own practice of web content writing. You will be reading and writing about writing on the web, and in doing so looking at the principles and practices of writing on the web. But we'll also be looking at alternatives to those conventions The guiding principle of the course is MakeMeThinkAgain. It will ask you to look at and consider the normative and prescriptive positions of web writing by actively and systematically exploring what those positions entail - and how else they can be addressed.

In this way, the course gives you the opportunity to gain experience in writing and editing web content based on rhetorical principles rather than normative ones.

Aims of the Course

This course gives you the opportunity

The course will not make you an expert in web content writing - no course will. It will give you a chance to practice writing web content so that

This Wiki

The exercises, my notes and whatever else we need to look at will show up on this wiki. You'll also be using the wiki for your notes and trials for each exercise.


Attendance is voluntary, but wise. If you're here, you'll probably gain something. If you're here and active, you'll definitely gain something. And take notes.

Assignments and Deadlines

Whether you attend or not, assignments and deadlines are not negotiable. Assignments are done on time in order to be accepted as part of your grade. Late means a zero, and there's no make up: the course marches on. For an A, you must meet every deadline. Miss too many deadlines and you will be advised to drop the course. Slapdash work may result in negative points. [added 19 Jan 2017]

Assessment and Grading

I'm using D2L not as a grade book but as a way of giving you feedback on how you are doing, so please don't look for grades or points. Look under Assessments > Class Progress > Grades for comments on your work and advice for the next round. I will issue you a mid-term grade, and if you are in danger of getting a D or E, I'll let you know individually.

A = all deadlines met, superlative work by the end of the semester
B = most or all deadlines met, excellent work by the end of the semester
C = most or all deadlines met, competent but standard, pedestrian work
D = many deadlines missed, work below standard
E = many or most of the deadlines missed.

Grad Student Requirements

Grad students in ENGL 5169 are expected to demonstrate more mastery of the concepts we're working with, be more forward in offering your input grounded in those concepts, and take on leadership in groups. We'll discuss further grad requirements for projects and exercises as we approach them. My advice: Get out in front.

Privacy and Sharing

This wiki is fishbowl wiki. It can be read and searched by anyone, but it is editable only by those with a password. This means that your work in this class is visible to the world. At the end of the course you may remove or revise material you created on this wiki. I will remind you of this clean up at the end of the semester.

Alternative Formats

This syllabus is available in other formats. Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at 755-3883. Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities if you need accommodations in the class.

Academic Integrity

You are expected to practice the highest standards of ethics, honesty, and integrity in all your academic work. Any for of dishonesty, such as plagiarism, cheating, or mis-representation, may result in discipline. Discipline may include failing part or all of the course, as well as suspension from the university. For details on policies and procedures, refer to to the Student Code of Conduct section of the BSU Student Handbook and The Academic Integrity.

If I change anything on this syllabus, I'll let you know.


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