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If you're going into web writing or web design, here are two texts you'll want to have.

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

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

ENGL 4169/5169: Web Content Writing

Spring 2015
Prof M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814 • twitter: @mcmorgan
Course url:
This Is Online:


Jonathan and Lisa Price. Hot Text: Web Writing that Works. New Riders, 2002. Amazon.

Referred to and reference
Lynch and Horton. Web Style Guide, 3rd ed. In print from Amazon or BSU Bookstore, or online This is the Elements of Style when it comes to web design and content writing.


Writing: 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.

On the publishing side, we'll be using Joomla 2.5x, set up at You will be publishing, editing, and managing web content on This Is Online.

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 text editing, management, and 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 page layout, textual elements such as headings and lists, links, and incorporating images and text). Writing for the web has broadened over the past 20 years, we approach it as rhetorically open and diverse. This course is about the rhetorical situations, affordances, possibilities, and experiments as they might unfold on the web.

This is to say that writing web content has become significantly 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

The Idea behind This

Web content writing has become industrial - formulaic, ROI-centered - as mass communication concepts are loathe to challenge audiences. Writing for the Commercial Web is readily learned: It's not challenging - for either the reader or the writer. The watchword is Don't Make Me Think - and meeting that commandment requires as little thought of the writer as it demands of the reader. If you are looking for more of the same, you should look for another course.

But web content writing need not follow mainstream models of mass comm. Because the web is a publishing platform that stands outside commercial interests, a one-to-one medium, writers can take alternative approaches, think of audiences in alternative ways, employ the affordances of web writing in ways that challenge both themselves and readers.

This course asks you to challenge the mainstream and to critique the experimental. Its guideline is Make Me Think. It asks you to push back against the normative and prescriptive positions of web writing by actively exploring what that push back entails.

Focus on Rhetorical Problems

The course takes a problem-centered approach to learning web writing. Every week or so, I will set a challenge based on whatever we're looking at that time. Your task is to find ways to address the problem within the criteria.

Here's the situation. Here's the challenge. Form is specified, as are other criteria, such as links.

Publish a 500-760 word narrative on Medium in which you do x. Reading time of 2 min. Article to wiki explaining your reasoning.


We'll run the class a little like the editing room of a magazine. I'll assign you writing projects or you can propose them. You draft and submit an article, I edit, we review the draft, you revise, and your article is eventually published on This Is Online. When published, you gain points. As the course progresses, I hope that you will take on roles as editors more and more: managing the backend of the CMS, developing new categories for This Is Online, developing more complex, multi-page projects, and editing each other's drafts. Along the way, you'll be addressing some exercises (perhaps for publication, perhaps not) drawn from Price, Hot Text.

Project assignments will be tailored - that is, assigned to you by interest, availability, and tenacity. Some projects can be accomplished quickly. Others will demand things like getting on Twitter for a few weeks, or traveling somewhere ...

You will have at least one project to work on from the third or fourth week of class on. As soon as you finish one project, you'll get a short breather, then have another assigned.

We'lll meet face to face once week. I'll meet with you individually so you can bring me up to date on your work. You'll have time to meet with co-writers to work, and the like. Use the rest of the time here and elsewhere to do your work. When we meet, bring Hot Text.

Exercises, discussion, and quizzes maybe Some Web Design Fundamentals

Writers are occasionally involved in decisions involving information architecture of websites, including hierarchies, taxonomies, category terms, aspect terms, page design, and other visual and conceptual choices of design. We're going to take a few weeks to look at some of these choices and how to make them wisely. We'll use Lynch and Horton's Web Style Guide, 3rd ed (print or online at as a guide, and we'll work with some exercises in-class and out to get your feet wet.


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


Joomla is a well-known content management system - a system that runs on a web server that allows writers and editors to post, edit, publish, and manage written content. WordPress is a CMS. Joomla is arcane, finicky, and a nuisance, but it fits our purpose. If you write professionally for the web, you are likely to encounter a CMS, so having some experience with one is a Good Thing.

You will be authors on Joomla, which lets you post and edit articles. As the course progresses, you will all be involved in editorial decisions, which involve tweaking and creating new categories on Joomla, change designs, and the like. I'll introduce you to what you need to know to get started as we go. If you take an interest in Joomla, in, perhaps running your own Joomla-based publication, you can start your apprenticeship during the course. Start reading the documentation on

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.

The Wiki and Joomla

We'll use a wiki to support the practices and procedures in this course.
  • I'll use it to post assignments, announcements, instruction materials, my notes, and whatever else we need.
  • You may use it to plan, draft stories, keep notes, share text, track what you're doing, submit plans, and record individual work.
  • Individually, you may use it for class notes and assignments.

Story assignments, proposals, and drafts are all managed on Joomla. You'll see them once you are registered and logged in.

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

Exercises and assignments are due on time, please. Late projects will loose points for every day they are late. If you don't submit the materials at all, you don't get the points.


We will touch base as a class at least once each week, and attendance at these meetings will count towards your final grade. At other times, I may schedule individual meetings with you during class time.

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

Assessment and Grading

Think of this course as much like an internship as a course. I will evaluate you on your initiative, problem-solving, timeliness, as well as using - well - the affordances of good web content writing.

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.

You get a byline by writing or co-writing a project, or by being an assigned or volunteer tech assistant/first editor for a project, that reaches publication. Each byline is worth 100 points or so.

Projects will ask for between 1000 - 5000 published words, but that is negotiable. If you have a project of 2000 words, we will discuss how many points it's worth. It may turn out, on the other hand, that a 1000 word article shrinks to 250 concise words - and still gets the full points. Depends. It's about learning.

Words on the web: I do the counting after I edit. That is, concision counts. While long isn't necessarily better, development is - and on the web, you can develop by linking, listing, and other means. When you first submit a draft, I may edit it with the aim of getting more words out of you. I can get a 500 word draft down to 250 words pretty easily. Which means you may have to submit 1000 words to even meet the 500 word count.

As a rough guide, if you're doing fine with the exercises and possible quizzes, you make the deadlines, you can figure on the following:

2 bylines = C
4 bylines = B
6 bylines = A

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

Privacy and Sharing 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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