Web writing: Things to consider

Before I joined Ohio State as a staffer in 2005, I was a print person through and through.

I’d written for daily newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News), an alt-weekly (the late, great The Other Paper) and a magazine (Columbus Monthly). I had the story-finding and writing skills I needed to write and edit Connect e-news and osu.edu features–but my tech skills basically ended with “turn computer off at night.” (A big behemoth desktop PC, of course.)

And now, I was Ohio State’s new web editor.

I looked around for conferences and tried to read some how-to’s. But I learned the most by becoming a voracious consumer of web content–reading everything I could get my mouse on, watching web video good and bad, downloading podcasts, clicking my way through slideshows. What did I like and get lost in? When I found something that resonated with me, I asked, “How can I make this work for Ohio State?”

Here is my best advice for print writers who want to transition to writing for the web:

  • Take advantage of the medium. Don’t force users to scroll through long chunks of text. Work to break them up (e.g., this photo-driven story on Ohio State arts outreach efforts in Weinland Park). Adapt trends–like Buzzfeed-styles “listicles”–to your advantage (e.g., this piece welcoming orientation students and families).
  • Be engaging. It’ s my belief that social media has changed user expectations significantly: It’s no longer enough to share our story. Our audiences want to participate. On osu.edu, we strive to give them something to do to, whether that’s clicking through an interactive timeline (see the history of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry) or “traveling” via Google mapping technology. We ask questions on social media and use Storify to compile social media responses from our audiences; see the responses to Ohio State’s call for #BuckeyeLove stories.
  • Timing matters. Get familiar with your sites analytics and post appropriately during traffic peaks and valleys. Consider what’s “hot” at the moment, too: On osu.edu, we featured the evolution of Brutus the week before the first game, when fans were starved for anything Buckeye football. Around New Year’s, when everyone is making health-related resolutions, we share #healthyOSU tips and research news.
  • Know your audience. Who are you writing for? Answering this question will help you with content strategy. For example, Ohio State’s Facebook page is a great place to engage alumni, while Instagram skews younger–so we target alumni on Facebook and concentrated our orientation social media efforts on Instagram.
  • Do a tone check. Our writing strives to be warm, friendly, interesting and interested. It’s smart and it’s fun–just like Ohio State itself.
  • Teamwork rules! The best web content is created by teams that include writers, photographers, graphic designers and developers. Don’t be an island.
  • Test early and often–and be patient with yourself. Making mistakes is part of the process. But soon enough, you too will be a web geek like me:

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