Technical Writing and Writing for the Web

The following are the workshop notes for a presentation I gave recently to Portland Community College’s Technical Writing class. The topic was on web writing and writing for the web.

The main topics I covered in the workshop included:

  • Web platforms
    • Web publishing
    • Online personas
  • Writing for the Web
    • Web writing structure and format
    • Myths and Facts
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Demographics
    • Writing for your audience


The following are terms and jargon used in blogging and social media.

  • Blogging: Publishing on the web through websites (blogs) and social media. Facebooking and Twitter are blogging, specifically microblogging.
  • Photoblogging: Publishing photography and words on the web through websites and social media.
  • Vlogging: Publishing video on the web.
  • Podcasting: Publishing scheduled and syndicated multimedia content on the web.
  • Social Media: Online marketing and community building.
  • SEO: (Search Engine Optimization) The process of making a site search engine friendly through code and content. Modern term for developing a site for search engine attention and distribution, aka marketing.
  • Web Publishing: Publishing on the web, sharing multimedia content in the virtual community.
  • Syndication: The distribution of content on the web through feeds.
  • Blog: A blog is a website with content displayed in reverse chronological order.

Why Blog?

There are many reasons people blog. The following comes from multiple surveys asking people why they blog.

  • Improves your work and art
    • Self-direction, motivation, assignments
    • Discipline
    • You teach best what you most need to learn
  • Track your progress
  • Feedback
  • Marketing and publicity
  • Networking and relationships
  • News and announcements

According to Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere/Digital Influence Reports, bloggers say they blog for the following reasons, in this order:

  1. Share expertise and experiences with others
  2. Speak your mind on areas of interest
  3. To become more involved with my passion areas
  4. Networking and relationships
  5. Gain professional recognition
  6. Advance career
  7. To get published
  8. Attract new clients for self and employer

Your Web Platform

A web platform is today’s CV, resume, portfolio, and business card. It is your billboard on the web. While you may have social media network channels, a web presence is most respected with a website.

A web platform is a virtual soap box from which to establish your authority, expertise, and skills within a community of like minds. It establishes communication and trust with readers, visitors, clients, and potential clients and employers.

In other words, it tells the world:

  1. You know what you are talking about
  2. You are worth knowing
  3. What you are talking about is worth knowing
  4. You are worth hiring/buying/supporting

Your platform consists of words and images that define and describe the following on the web:

  • Identity
  • Purpose
  • Niche/Subject
  • Audience
  • Goals

The key questions to answer are:

  1. What the hell are you talking about?
  2. What gives you the right to tell me?
  3. Are you talking to me?

What answers these questions?

  • Visuals Matter
  • Words Matter
    • Site Title
    • Post Titles
    • Headings
    • Links
    • Buttons
    • Content

Research has shown repeatedly that we look at words before pictures most of the time, and web design research found that people act more readily upon words rather than images, though images may help.

The core content found within a website is described as:

Core content is the consistent, omni-present content that influences and directs the reader to answer the questions of who you are, what you do, what you have to say, and how you can help them.

Core website content consists of a well-written and presented Contact form and About, in addition to other content important to the site’s purpose and goals.

Contact Page

A well-written contact page consists of the following:

  • Introduction: This is an opportunity to introduce yourself again and offer suggestions for why someone might contact you such as your expertise in web design, development, programming, or ability to draw beautiful pictures of cats.
  • Multiple Methods of Contact: Include address and phone number if they are business and brick and mortar, publicly accessible companies, social media channels, and other websites. NEVER NEVER publish your email address. This is a security risk. Always use a contact form or social media channels to start a conversation. They’ll get your email address then.
  • Contact Form: Use a contact form to allow people to contact. It is emailed from the site to your email inbox, and if you reply, they will then get your email address and a relationship may begin for communication. You may customize the contact form to meet your needs but keep it simple, easy-to-use, and concise to start.
  • The Title and URL of the Page is Contact: Title the page “Contact,” not Contact Us, Contact Fred, Contact Me, or Contact the Company. “Contact” has become a web standard naming convention and people look for it. It also takes up less space on the primary navigation areas.

About Page

The next core content is the About. Like Contact, this is titled About, not About Us, About Me, About the Company, etc. Again, it is a web standard.

  • Two Sections Minimum: A well-written About features two sections.
    • The first is the description of the mission, purpose, and goals of the site. It answers the questions “What the hell are you talking about?” and “Are you talking to me?”
    • The second is the author description. Title that section “About the Author(s)” or something similar and answer the question “What gives you the right to tell me?” The goal is to create trust and respect for your opinions on the site, and justify why you are the one with the answers or at least a new friend.
  • Write in Third Person: In general, stick to third person when writing the About.
  • Brag: You may not get another opportunity to brag, to toot your own horn, to celebrate who you are and your accomplishments. Do it here. Let the world know that you are the expert, you fought the battles and came out a hero.
  • Include a Photograph: While it is not required, this is an opportunity to put a human face on your site and your work. Consider adding a photograph of you in your element if not just a profile picture. Let the image represent you and your passions and the reasons you have this site.

Profile and Profile Image

Every site and social media network requires a profile description and a profile image. WordPress sites use Gravatar build into WordPress and associated by an email address for a universal profile.

  • Image Represents You, Your Business, or Interest: Ensure the image and profile description represents you, is the logo of your business, or represents your topic and expertise. The key is representation, something recognizable as a human or business entity.
  • You Only: A profile image is no time to include pictures of your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, pets, plants, or other non-professional images. This is a visual and contextual opportunity to create a relationship and build trust, and research shows that a Gravatar or profile image of you and your child does not build trust unless you are a parent blogger.
  • Third Person Writing: While some social networks insist on a first person narrative, use third person when writing your profile. This is your chance to brag, so do so in one to three sentences.
  • Keep It Short: Profile descriptions should be short, rarely longer than 5 sentences, two to three is ideal. Avoid run-on sentences and redundant words.
  • Give Them a Chance to Know You: Answer the above questions, and give them a chance to peek through the virtual fog to know you are someone they might be friends with, and want to know better.
  • Use a Human-Sounding Name: You are not your username nor keywords. You are not “Web Developer Expert” or “Sexy Chick 69.” People want to connect with humans, so even if you choose to remain anonymous, choose a human-sounding name like “John D. Smith.” People will trust you faster and feel like they are talking to a real person not a bot or spammer.

Web Writing Techniques

Without a doubt, the most important qualification for employment today is: attention to details.

Have you ever been involved in human resources and hiring or seen it in action? I’ve witnessed exceptionally skilled people’s resumes tossed aside because of misspellings, grammar issues, formatting boo boos or the lack of good formatting – don’t think that you didn’t get the job because you weren’t experienced enough. It might be true, but it could be some tiny bit of detail that caught the eye of the person sifting through the hundreds of applicants and took the easy way for the process of elimination based on a spelling error.

On the web, there are what we lovingly call Spell Cops and Grammar Police scanning the web for mistakes and telling the authors about them. Most do so out of kindness and eagerness to help. Years ago I asked a famous journalist about the move to the web for his articles and we shared a laugh about how many of our comments are about misspelled words. He told me how much he loved that. “I like it because it tells me that they not only read every word in the article, they talked to me. We made a connection, started a relationship.” I have to admit that some of my fondest relationships on the web started with a spelling error, including my involvement with WordPress in 2003. I corrected the word “seperate” on the wiki.

Attention to details is also about workmanship. It proves you care about what you do. Steve Jobs is famous for saying:

Details matter. It’s worth waiting to get it right.

The following are tutorials, techniques, and guides for writing on the web.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization Means Online Marketing to Search Engines

The number one tip for modern search engine optimization is: use nouns. The second most important tip is to ignore what most SEO experts tell you.

Search engines love words first, images second. They need sites they can crawl through simply and easily, with no broken or archaic code. Then they look for the words. Not the words stuffed into meta tags or hidden from the reader, but words that a reader sees. Today’s search engines use a secret sauce that evaluates a website and its web content as if it were a human reading each page. Don’t try to outwit it because, trust me, search engines are smarter than you think they are.

The following are links to research on social media demographics. Remember, in order to find new friends, you have to find the sandbox in which they play. You go to them and play there, then slowly bring them to your sandbox, your website and social channels. (Please note that some of these may appear dated, but it often takes a year or more for such statistics.)

Using George Takei as an example, these are the top 5 tips on how to be a social media expert like George Takei.

  1. Be yourself
  2. Interact with fans
  3. Know that people don’t like advertisements
  4. It takes a plan, work, and creative serendipity
  5. Willingness to laugh at yourself

How to Blog and Keep Blogging

The following are some basic tips on how to keep blogging. Since over 95% of those who start blogging stop within the first few weeks or months, consider these kicks in the butt.

  • Expand your mind
    • Start journaling
    • Read
    • Rewrite
  • Write what you love
  • Give yourself deadlines
  • Learn how to blog better and faster

Use the Right Tools

Begin with a journal, be it analog or Evernote or Microsoft OneNote digital, web app options.

Learn how to use your word processor, but go even further and learn how to use tools like Scrivener, mind maps, graphic programs (PhotoShop or PaintShop Pro), and most of all, learn how to use your web browser as that is the gateway to the web and the most often used and least understood piece of software on our computers.

Learn how to use feeds and feed readers. All modern websites come with feeds built-in. This permits apps like feed readers to bring the web content to the reader rather than them trying to remember your URL and searching for your site every time they want to see what’s new.

Feedly is one of the most popular feed readers. Sign up, learn how to use it. Get the mobile app. Add your favorite sites. Add sites related to your studies and your specialty. Monitor their activity on a regular basis to keep up with your industry. Find something interesting? Blog about it.

Create an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is a great way to create self-assignments and schedule deadlines to keep you blogging. Explore seasonal topics and holidays and add them to the calendar so you publish ahead of their “due dates.” Look for annual events, conferences you attend regularly, meetings, any special events and add those to the calendar to ensure you talk about them before, during, and afterward.

Consider writing article series. Break your content up into a series of posts to spread the goodness out over time. It gives people a reason to keep coming back.

Learn how to automate the process by using WordPress future posts or timestamp feature to schedule your content, and use social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Social Oomph.

Get and use a smartphone to capture notes, ideas, images, and even blog as you move through life and work. Integrate the process into your life and it will become easier, and give you more confidence in your work and life.


The two homework assignments for the students for extra credit are:

  1. Tutorial: Write a tutorial about something you know well. Keep it short and concise and cover only one element not the whole topic.
  2. Feed-inspired Post: Write an article about something you find through your feeds. Include a link to the source.

Each article must use the tips and techniques covered in the class and feature the following:

  • Headings
  • Lists
  • Links
  • Minimum 3 images (left, right, and centered)
  • If possible, include citations and blockquotes


The blog does not stand alone.

It’s about identity. It’s about sharing.

It’s about helping people get to know you on the web.

It’s about the connections.

Make it your own.

Share your talents with the world.

The world will knock, if you open the door.

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