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ENGL 4169/5169: Web Content Writing

spring 2011
Prof M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
Office Hours: M and W 12:00 - 1:00. T - R 1:15 - 2:00. Other hours by appointment. • @mcmorgan

Course url:

Under revision until 5 Jan 2011

Required Redish, Janice (Ginny). Letting Go of the Words. Morgan Kaufmann, 2007. $32.97 at Amazon. Kindle, $25.

Required, but online Lynch and Horton. Web Style Guide, 3rd ed. This is the Elements of Style when it comes to web design and content writing.

Recommended Information Architecture, 2nd edition. Christina Wodtke and Austin Govilla. New Riders, 2009. Use only the 2nd edition. The 1st edition is a very different book. $29.70 at Amazon

We will be using RapidWeaver on the Mac, available in HS 109. If you want your own copy, RapidWeaver is about $40.00 for students. Mac only, sorry. I've been trying to find a comparable application for Windows, but haven't yet. Information about pricing here.

Course Statement

This course gives you the opportunity to gain experience in writing and editing content for web sites based on rhetorical principles. It's a course designed to help you develop both hands-on skills in writing for the web and larger rhetorical strategies for web site content creation.

The course focuses on rhetorical situations and circumstances particular to writing for the web (such as differences from print in reading and audience relations) and the rhetorical affordances for addressing those circumstances (web design, web page layout, textual elements such as headings and lists, links).

This is to say that writing web content is significantly - not trivially - different than writing for print. The capabilities and demands of web readers, web sites, and the Internet at large make possible - and necessary - changes in writing from the level of the sentence up to the level of the document.


The course won't necessarily make you an expert in web content writing but it does give you a chance to practice writing web content so that

Focus on Content

The course takes a content- and user-centered approach to web writing. That is, we start with content and the reader's position and make rhetorical choices from there.

And this is a studio course: dominantly hands-on, centered on a web project, with some editing exercises, discussions, and oral critiques.


The first couple of weeks of the course, we'll figure out what project or projects to take on. As a class, or as two or three large groups. you will design and develop a new web site, or re-design and re-write an existing site. In the past this course has revised the English Department site, rewriting most of the material for the site. We're looking for a similar kind of project for this semester.

What's nice about working in a larger group is that you can play to different strengths and interests in the group. And professionally, web design and web writing is a group effort. This course gives you practice in that effort.

Exercises, discussion, and quizzes maybe

To introduce new concepts, to broaden the range of opportunities, and to let you experiment a little, I'll be giving you some exercises in writing and recasting web text, drawn from principles and practices in Letting Go of the Words. The exercises can open up our discussion on strategies and complications in addressing rhetorical situations on the web.

Typically, a course might use quizzes and tests to determine your mastery of practices and concepts. Instead, as is appropriate in a workshop, I will ask you to demonstrate a growing mastery of the concepts behind the practice by talking about your work, and the work of others.

I may, for instance, ask you to draw on Letting Go of the Words to discuss why you made the choices you did in placing and labeling links on a page. Or I may ask you to discuss how else you might shorten the main text of a page and deal with the necessary supplemental material.

Expect to be asked in class, on the fly, about writing and design choices you (and your group, if you're working in groups) have made. When you are asked, don't panic. It doesn't mean you have made poor choices. Take your time, think, consider, and do your best to explain your line of thinking. Ground your choices in the principles we're working with. Ask others to help you out. Let others help you out. Look for alternatives. Look for alternatives. Look again for alternatives.

I may give one or two short quizzes during the course. If I do, I'll mention it in advance. But more often, I will expect you to be able to use the terms and concepts introduced as part of this class to consider and discuss whatever it is we're working on at the time.

All the activities for the course - the projects, the exercises, the discussions - are designed to give you opportunities not only to learn the practice, the how-to, but to develop and refine your understanding of the rhetorical strategies and principles behind the practice.


While what we do in class builds from fundamentals, I encourage you to experiment. Because we're working in groups and in a classroom environment, we can try things out, consider and discuss and text how they work - or not - and change them as necessary.


Most of what happens in web design and content writing does not happen using Dreamweaver, or Photoshop, or Flash. And in the same way, much of what you'll be doing in this class will take place in the field, in groups, often using paper and Post It notes and notecards and whiteboards, as well as the wiki and email. But Wwe'll be putting the sites on the web using RapidWeaver, a small, inexpensive web design application.

Much of the process of web content writing (and web design; the two are intimately intertwined) proceeds by trail and testing, and trail and testing relies a lot on impromptu ideas to get things moving. RapidWeaver lets you create rapid prototypes of pages and sites to experiment with different ways of framing content. It lets you see how the use and meaning of written content changes as the pages and site design changes.

Images and Other Web Technologies

If necessary, we will cover how to prepare original content images - scans and digital photos - for the web, using Photoshop CS3. We have a scanner and a digital camera available in the classroom, and many of you already own digital cameras.

Although you are welcome to explore the following technologies on your own, we will not be covering them in class, nor do you need to know about them.

The Web Design and Content Writing Wiki

We'll use a wiki to support the practices and procedures in this course.

Grad Student Requirements

As grad students, you 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.

Due Dates and Preparedness

The class moves quickly. And because this is a studio class, you'll be expected to have materials ready and with you to work on when you come to class. Since you will be able to work anywhere you have a computer, online or off, you should have little difficulty being prepared.

Exercises and other assignments are due on time, please. Late projects and assignments will loose a full grade for every day they are late. If you don't submit the materials at all, I'll subtract the points from your final total.


This is a workshop course. So after the first few weeks, many class sessions will be group work sessions. I want to keep course meetings flexible. Some days, we might meet for ten minutes, then scatter. Other days, we might not need to meet as a class, although the room will be open and I'll be available. We'll decide how to proceed as we go. We will touch base at least once each week, and attendance at these meetings will count towards your final grade.

Plan on being in class when it is scheduled, and on time, please. Missing 4 scheduled classes will cut into your final grade. Miss 6 classes - that's 3 weeks of class - and I'll ask you to drop.

You may be making group presentations during the course, mainly to get comments and feedback from others. You'll have plenty of time to prepare, and we'll discuss what to prepare in advance.

Assessment and Grading

Your grades on the project - and your final grade - will reflect both your work on the writing and your understanding of the principles on which you base your choices. While the project will demonstrate that you can do something, in-class critiques, exercises, and discussions demonstrate your understanding of the content writing principles on which you grounded your choices.

Understanding principle is just as important as practice - even more so when you confront a novel situation.

All work must be completed to receive a final grade for the course. But here's the way grading will work out - subject to change. I may adjust the number of points on some of the projects.

90% = A
80% = B
70% = C
60% = D
below 60% = E

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

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 alternate formats. Talk to me, or contact Kathi Hagen in the Office for Students with Disabilities at 755-3883. Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities if you need accommodations in the class.

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