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ENGL 4169/5169: Web Content Writing

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

TIO Labs

From whence?


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

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


Writing: Medium is designed as an online text editor, and works very well. 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.

Course Statement

Web Content Writing as it is typically taught 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 require 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 communication. Because the web is a publishing platform that can stand outside commercial interests, a one-to-one medium, writers can take alternative approaches, think of audiences in alternative ways, employ affordances of web writing in ways that challenge both themselves and readers.

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

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. What this statement means is what I hope you will come to gain through the course.

But be assured: This is a course in practice. 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.

Aims of the Course

Learning Opportunities

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

Focus on Rhetorical Problems

The course takes a problem-centered approach to learning web writing. Every week or two, I will set a challenge based on one or two aspects of writing and reading web content. Your task is to find ways to address the challenge while following the criteria. In doing so, you will be reading / researching the matter at hand, taking notes, making lists, experimenting with alternatives, discussing the matters at hand, ... This preliminary work then leads to an article drafted, edited, and published to medium. As a final part of the challenge, the article you will be asked to write will be of a set reading length and most often I'll assign a genre or the use of a classical rhetorical exercise form.

Here's a rough sketch of the workflow. The workflow may change as we refine it during the course.

Here's a draft of what a challenge might look like:
Title: Make Me Think About Writing Interfaces

Investigate the affordances for reading and writing that the Medium interface makes available, and consider how these affordances shape writing and reading. For affordances, consider such things as the drafting space, comments and how they are handled, how links work, limits on image placement, how image enlargement works for readers, page color, icons for reading and writing .… Just as importantly, consider what is missing.

Before drafting, start with notes: Make an extensive list of affordances and other elements you see on Medium — 20–30 items, with some thoughts on each. Do some research. A pattern or two will start to develop.

Now, write an invective or encomium to the interface. 3 to 5 min reading. Use one image — your own or one repurposed. Incorporate links.

See Also: epideictic oratory


You can see that each challenge draws on something that might be new to you and will require some reading and writing. That each challenge demands some preliminary writing in the form of notes, lists, sketches - generally extensive notes - and perhaps some discussion. That each challenge introduces a different set of rhetorical criteria to address in your published work. To my mind, and in my own practice with this work, none of the challenges can be met with off-the-cuff, un-worked exposition. It usually requires more work to challenge convention than to follow it. I'm asking that you take up the challenges in the spirit intended: that as a challenge, each gives you the opportunity to make people think.



You will need a Twitter account to use Medium. Get an account if you don't have one already. Or get a second one if you want to keep your work with this course separate from your personal account.

English Dept Communications

The department’s webpage ( has information about the department, current and future classes and other stuff for majors and non-majors.

For majors and interested students, we maintain a listserv for announcements about jobs, careers, publishing opportunities, news, and information. To subscribe to Verb_L, send an email with “Subscribe” in the subject line to

A confirmation email will be sent to you. Simply follow those directions. Also look for us on Facebook: BSU English.

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.

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.

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.
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 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 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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