HOW IS MATERIAL PUBLISHED ONLINE

There are two common methods of online publishing:

1. Involving a series of people, each with different skills.

  • Material might be written by a person who is skilled at writing.
  • Another person skilled in computer graphics might be needed to do the layout
  • A third person skilled in programming might be required after the layout is completed to place the publication on the internet so it can be accessed live.

2. One person is expected to be multi-skilled and do all of the above. 

This is often the case with online news publishing and the direction in which the whole industry is moving.  Journalists are therefore required to write, edit, film, do audio interviews and take photographs, as well as understand the technology required to place their work online.

Management Systems
These are "content management systems" rather than general systems and procedures. Some web sites and e-zines have been developed with sophisticated content management systems and programming (such as rad editors) allowing writers with limited programming or graphic skills to complete the entire process of publishing themselves.  

Using a management system such as this it is possible for someone with limited computer skills to do the following:

  • become familiar with a current edition of the publication
  • learn to use an online management system for a publication
  • write content for an online edition of the publication and load it online
  • make adjustments to the submitted document as needed
  • authorise the item to go live on the internet.

Some factors that you might need to consider when writing for online publication are:

  • Creating an immediate impact
  • Interest in the topic – currency and amount of interest 
  • Holding the reader’s attention
  • Page layout
  • Creating visual variety and interest
  • Ease of navigation
  • Images
  • Colour and style
  • Creating links
  • Interactive elements.

As mentioned earlier, people read online articles and stories in a very different manner to printed material.  More often than not people go online to search for specific information.  This is not the same process as idly flicking through a newspaper or magazine.  They are usually looking for condensed information and are often in a hurry (or just impatient). 

Online readers want sites that are informative and easy to navigate! 

When reading information on web sites people do not read so much as scan a page.  According to an eye tracking study by the Poynter Institute, online readers search quickly down the page for relevant keywords or information, and their eyes dart across the screen in an F shaped pattern (horizontal lines first, followed by the down stroke). 

The Poynter eyetrack study showed that 75% of the text in online articles was read as compared to the 20 – 25% that was read on average in print. 

Online readers pick out information in the headings, lead, subheadings and in bold.  When publishing online, therefore, you need to take advantage of that eye tracking motion and write and edit with online readers' needs and habits in mind.

The first two paragraphs of your story or article should contain the most important information.  Your subheadings, paragraphs, and bullet points should start with informative words so the reader can quickly decide if this is what they are looking for.  The left side of your page should also be filled with keywords which help convey the point of your article.

Remember the internet is global.  You are not just writing for your local community.  Your work could be seen by people from a variety of different cultures.  Decide who your target reader is and edit for them but don't forget the international audience.  

Online publishing is not a static medium. 

You can accompany your article with video footage, sound, images and links.  Remember that the web is interactive and design your online writing to take advantage of this. 

If your story contains very disparate elements, you can break it into separate topics (written in the inverted pyramid style) and connect them via links (ensuring that each link adds more depth to the story).  Making people scroll to get the rest of a story is generally better than making them click, however, if each link is focused on a different element of the story which can stand alone in its own right then creating a series of interlinked stories can work.

The work that you edit for online can be presented in slideshows, accompanied by photos or accompanied by surveys.  You could also include a question and answer section to go with your article and make information easier to find for the reader.  Many websites have a frequently asked questions section for this reason.
 

Key Rules
Some key rules for writing / editing for the web include:

  • Use bullet pointed lists
  • Keep it short (half the length of the equivalent hard copy story)
  • Keep each paragraph focused on one point or idea
  • Have informative headings and sub headings
  • Highlight important keywords
  • Accompany your work with pictures (they must be small files - quick to load)
  • Write so the reader can quickly scan the page
  • Don't use continuous long blocks of text and long sentences (try reading it aloud)
  • Use links to split up different topics
  • Use the inverted pyramid style of writing
  • Use active language (strong verbs)
  • Use humour
  • Conversational style can work well if it is appropriate to the subject
  • Get to the point
  • Avoid over using adjectives

As with any professional writing, the structure needs to be logical and coherent with one idea spilling on to the next.  Online readers have a plethora of information sources to choose from.  If you are not providing enough information, or providing that information fast enough, they will move on.  It's important to tell the reader quickly what the article is about and then move on in order to hold their attention.

If your information can be more easily presented in a visual diagram, chart, table or animated graphic, think about doing so.  Don't forget, however, that images take longer to load than words so your heading is still more important than even the best image in the world.

Remember you need to answer all of the reader's questions.  Usually that means the article has to address the following:

Who?
What?
When?
Where?
How?
Why?
(And: Why is the story important?)

The eye-tracking study found that reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper and that users hated the sales / promotional style of writing.  They want straight facts.

Explain
As mentioned previously most people turn to the web in a quest for information (or entertainment).  You need to give them what they are looking for.  If the piece you are editing is informative - it needs to properly explain the idea or concept which it addresses.   

Plan
Also mentioned above a number of times - the internet is interactive.  You may have a great story ready to go online but telling it in words alone might not be the answer.  If you are writing as well as editing your own work, you might want to take a few moments to consider what the best way to tell the story is.  Should it be a slideshow, an article, an audio interview, clickable graphics, a series of links or a combination of all of these things.

Develop a plan and let that guide you through your writing or publishing process.  Don't write the article and add all of the other elements later in a slap-dash manner.  Plan how it will all come together from the start.

If you are a publisher, get the writer to record interviews whenever possible and take photos of everyone they interview just in case the audio or visual elements come in handy.

Use links
Links can create a ‘choose your own adventure’ style reading experience.  They are also useful for providing background information on a topic in the same way that breakout boxes are used in magazines.

If you are going to use links it is important that the reader understands what that link is about and where it is going.  Surprises and obscure links are not really useful to someone who is searching for answers or information about a particular topic so make sure the heading on the link is clear.

  • Check to see if a link is working before publishing it on your page
  • Check the content of the link 
  • Make sure the link is relevant to the piece
  • Make sure the content of the link is suitable for your readership  
  • Include a link to a map if the story is set in a specific location

Make sure the site you are linking to is reputable (otherwise you are putting your own reputation on the line).  You should really apply the same editorial standards that you would to printed work.

EBOOKS

The format for e-books is much more akin to traditional publishing than writing for online - with the added benefit of being able to incorporate multi-media elements.  E-Books can be presented as virtual books with virtual pages that turn, or as .pdfs.  They have the added benefit of having a dictionary instantly available for any words that the reader does not understand.

There is speculation that some of the largest publishing houses in the world are planning on stopping production of traditional printing in the next decade and will only be producing ebooks thereafter.  If you are publishing print work, bear the future of your work in mind.  Is it easily adaptable to an electronic format?  Have you kept the right electronic files? 

See our ebooks at www.acsebook.com