As the changing digital landscape forces us to keep honing our writing and editing skills, I’ve quietly given one of our most popular workshops a bit of a refresh.
After the first three rounds of Writing for the Web in its new form, I’m happy to see the effort has been worth it – average feedback scores boasting 4.8 out of 5 (which is great, even by Netskills standards).
What’s the point?
It’s a workshop that’s been around for over a decade now in the Netskills portfolio. I took over in 2010 and have made tweaks to the content ever since.
But in the past few years, I’ve had a nagging feeling that something hasn’t been quite right. I felt I spent too much time introducing the web as a medium and by the time we got to the meat of day – editing and re-purposing text – the energy had run out and the post-lunch sleepiness had hit everyone.
So I set up about making some changes. I started by writing down what I wanted them to get out of the day:
- get a chance to edit text that is meaningful to them
- learn practical techniques that will help them write better text both online and offline
- know where to start when having to re-purpose text for the web
First thing I did was to strip the introduction right down. There seems little point dwelling on introducing the web as a medium when the web use has become ubiquitous even among the most technically timid people.
I also reframed the day a little. Drawing on common considerations around different types of web content, I listed questions that apply when making any content better and structured the day around them:
- Is it easy to find?
- Is it easy to judge to be the “right” content (i.e. from search results)?
- Is it easy to scan?
- Is it easy to understand?
- Is it interesting to its intended audience?
In each section, I introduce practical considerations and techniques like the inverted pyramid, sentence structure, active voice, scrapping common redundancies, audience analysis, adapting writing style and tone, etc.
I hope that by keeping things generic in terms of the type of content but specific in terms of advice, people will find it easier to apply the new skills when back in the office.
Less telling, more doing
The new structure is much leaner too (still potentially a bit too much PowerPoint but it’s a work in progress!). There’s a heavier emphasis on making a point by showing and doing rather than just telling.
Small exercises throughout the presentations make sure no one falls asleep! Judging by the feedback, this seems the right balance.
“This was one of the best courses I have been on, a great mix of telling then doing, with good examples to illustrate the point, now giving a lot of more informed thought to our efforts on the webpages we are responsible for.”
“I found this course really useful and will be applying a lot of what I learnt straight away – especially the inverted pyramid technique. I thought the number of attendees was about right for the balance of presentation and activities.”
“This was an excellent course which I would highly recommend to colleagues.”
Tightening of the content also gave me a chance to add a few things in, such as considerations around typography and formatting.
I could also expand the section which looks at writing in the context of search engine optimisation – something that went particularly well down on the first run of the new version.
The work doesn’t end
One thing that has struck me in my four years of running this workshop; there seems to be a constant, if not increasing need for honing writing skills for digital media.
Skilful writing and confident editing are skills that transfer across various job roles. But particularly now, as more and more people are using the vast array of digital tools available, the need to adapt our writing style and learn to edit our own text for the right context becomes even more pertinent.
Which means the work won’t end here for me either. I will keep honing the workshop to make sure the content stays useful as the digital landscape keeps changing and growing.