I have put a tiny guide to invite you to approach web writing from the perspective of interconnectedness.
Thinking in more depth and conceptual detail might not be the fastest and easiest way to creating content, yet I believe it is the master key to web writing that truly serves the main purpose of our text and web activities: to transmit information and to contribute knowledge.
The guide is available as a web page below and also as a pdf file, which you can download, no need for emails, subscriptions or something other than your desire. Enjoy! If you want to dive deeper into the way web writing changes, check my course: Content Writing in the Semantic Web.
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The Whys and Whats of Web Writing
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The Web is magnificent. A log of our heart and mind journeys towards knowledge, it maps represents and serves as a vessel for transporting information across time and space. As the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls it – a social creation to help people work together, its ultimate goal is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world.
The purpose of this guide
The general purpose of this tiny companion is to show you how to use web writing to weave your messages and values into the magnificent, growingly interconnected information space, called the Web.
A fair warning
The guide does not contain tips, tools or techniques. Instead, what you will find here are understandings and perspectives for you to use when paving your own road to approaching web writing and making the best of it as a tool for growth, connections and more business.
How can this guide help your writing in today’s wildly (and beautifully) interlinked world?
Use the guide as a conceptual framework for a more holistic understanding of publishing on the web. It has been put together in the hope to show you a world where web and text are powerful tools for exchange, as intricate networks of words, things, people and the relationships between them.
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for everyone interested in using the written word to communicate and connect on the web efficiently. It is for those who want to know why and what to write on the web, to not only tap into its full potential but also to enrich it.
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Why (we) write on the Web?
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“The story of the Web is just the story of language, continued by other means.”
Web texts are unique connectors, bigger than SEO and larger than digital marketing, they are to be a solution in someone’s mind and hopefully a feeling in someone’s heart.
Writing on the web means becoming part of a huge corpus of texts. When we write we connect with the potential of various “containers” of relations, searching for, processing and synthesizing them with elaborate care and integrity. Wе inscribe signs and symbols on the web’s endless digital tabula.
Larger than writing
Web writing is much more than blog posts, website copy, newsletters, product descriptions etc. What’s beneath its visible surface is a dynamics of thought processes and experiences, a stream of data flowing in the informational currents of the World Wide Web, opening countless opportunities to connect, exchange, share.
“A teenager’s first poem, the blissful release of a long-kept secret, a fine sketch drawn by a palsied hand, a blog post in a regime that hates the sound of its people’s voices — none of these people sat down to write content. ”
— New Clues (Cluetrain Manifesto)
The sea-change digital technology brought has lead to a whole new understanding and use of the communication between individuals, communities, businesses, organizations. Our constant connectivity changes how we approach the web, how we behave both offline and online, ultimately how we use the written word. The transformation is two-fold: we as readers, writers and web explorers are as influenced by the new medium as it is by us and by the way we use it.
The better we understand this brave new world, the more effective and what is more important – the more relevant our web writing will be. Instead of looking at producing content because we have to, web writing is to be approached for what it really is: a great opportunity to form countless relationships and build bridges across seemingly distant networks with care for the communication process and respect for the participants in it.
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People, Machines and Publishing on the Web
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There are plenty of rules about how to write for the web, how to produce SEO copy and recently about how to take advantage of semantic copywriting. They could be useless, if followed mechanically, and very helpful if applied after you have decided what values do you want to project on the web and why.
Here you will find three general guiding principles to apply to publishing your text online and make sure your content serves its main purpose: connect you with the right readers.
Write for people, write for machines, write for joy!
Why write for people?
Texts are living things. The better and the truer (with more integrity) we interweave our stories into the web, the bigger the chancel we’ll connect authentically with more stories – that is with more experiences, that is with more people.
We don’t point a gun and say Buy this now!, similarly we don’t point a pitchy text or a catchy line that says nothing to the reader. Instead, we enter a dialogue, we pamper readers with thoughtful, relevant texts, giving them the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it.
Why write for machines?
The answer here is straightforward: web agents are the tools that help us to better and more efficiently store, classify and retrieve all that human experience, logged as data, on the Web.
When you publish an article online, you put information on the Web that will be consumed not only by your readers, but also by machines that currently are 60 % of the users in this informational space. These web agents are there to process, map, understand and classify content. We, as content creators can help these web agents make sense of our content by describing and categorizing what we put on the Web accordingly, using structured data, proper tagging, suitable descriptions, clear content architectures and relevant linking.
For a wonderful presentation on the origins and rationale behind publishing smart content, together with an outline of simple techniques how to make content better for both humans and machines, check Jay Mayer’s webinar Smarter Content on a Web of Machines.
Why write for joy?
Content written with verve matters. Joy shines through texts and sets them apart from content created with the only motive of selling and promoting. We are sentient beings, we feel things across media, we can tell enthusiasm, curiosity and true desire to connect from a sales pitch, from writing that aims to attract eyeballs, and from content that chases clicks and transactions.
This is why publishing online has to step away from practises like churning blog posts or flooding social media with meaningless promotional updates. Authentic writing and engaging on the web is about exploring, discovering and connecting wor(l)ds. Content writers are to be weaving webs of words with elaborate care, as their medium – the text, is a digital footprint of shared knowledge, information and new territories of understandings.
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What to Write on the Web?
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There has never been a greater need for quality content that is helpful, explanatory and supportive
When thinking what to write, always think of the increasing role publishing on the web plays in our networked lives. On the web, one of the ways we exist and shape our identity is, in many cases, is through texts – website content, blog articles, email correspondence, chunks of text for social media shares and comments.
In the above context in mind, two things are essential:
- What is it that you really want to say and cannot help but share?
- What is it that your audience needs?
The intersection of the answers to these questions is the answer to “What to write?”
Give what you seek to receive
Get into the shoes of your readers and then be the best answer you want to see on the web, on the topic you are covering. Seek to build relationships, research, connect, exchange not only goods, services and money, but also thoughts, ideas, insights. Thus the substance of your content, together with the most suitable format, will flow naturally.
To achieve consistency and a neat digital presence, also map your content, think in advance about the words and the experiences you want to be associated with. Turn them into tags, topical hubs, categories, series of content. Weave them organically into the conversations with your audience.
The time has come to leave the monological discourse and to start collaborating, co-creating and sharing. The Web needs your shared information for the greater good.
The web is all grass roots
You who publish are its future
You have a responsibility
…and an opportunity.
cit. Tim Berners-Lee, MIT & CERN. ECHT94
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Weblike texts, exchange and communicating on the web
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Weblike structures are key to the way we exchange value. Writing on the web is a dynamic process of intense multi-level communication, an act of providing and receiving information that links together people, things and thoughts.
What it is to be weblike?
Creating an environment for your writing to grow organically in various directions helps you build context around your content. And rich contextual data is what both your readers need in order to understand you, and what engines use to properly classify your content in order to further retrieve and rank it. The more connections (links, relationships) you include and create with web writing, the bigger the network you build.
What dialogues have to do with markets and texts?
Business is no separate from the things we do every day, it boils down to exchange, exchange of goods, ideas, values. The same goes for texts. In our interconnected times, where markets are dialogues (ref. Cluetrain Manifesto), text a major vessel of the messages sent and received on the Web.
In its very core, web writing is opening a dialogue and an invitation to connect. Our job when writing for the web is to make this invitation exciting. What really matters is to connect the dots and deserve the time and attention of the person on the other side of the written piece.
What listening can buy you that shouting can’t
One of the keys to successful web writing is setting the stage for a two-way communication. True involvement and real care for other people’s comments, shares and concerns takes time and devotion but pays off in the long-term. Listening to what the people you are writing for have to say also makes your content richer, more relevant and most importantly contextual. And content put in the right context means greater personalization and more engagement.
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Why Texts Need Relationships So Much?
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Through written communication online we enter countless texts and contexts thus becoming texts and contexts ourselves. Our content turns into never-ending relationship building, into stories, woven out of links, interactions, thoughts and things – all of them manifestations of our need to connect.
“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”
The richer our texts with collaborative and conversational experiences, the bigger the number of opportunities we open for connections and business.The better experiences we create, the more effective and what is more important the more relevant our web writing.
Our relationships define us
The sense of the world must lie outside the world
2.01 An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things)
2.011 It is essential to a thing that it can be a constituent part of an atomic fact.
Building relationships is about processes, perspectives and paradigms exchange. It is the best way to future-proof any content writing. Offline we constantly enter and exit static and dynamic relationships, creating open systems of new or existing contexts, connections and meanings. It shouldn’t be any different on the web. Experiences and connections translate into social signals, earned links and engaged audiences. And although these are factors that search engines consider, on the web, we write for people in the first place, to make them relate, participate in our story.
Our interconnectedness, that is our digital identity, is defined on many different levels – things, people, topics. When publishing a text on the web, keep in mind that valuable connections and relationships that matter have nothing to do with the quick rotating mass of social media feeds. They have to do with providing value.
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What the Web of Data Has to Do With Web Writing?
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“I have a dream for the Web … and it has two parts. In the first part, the Web becomes a much more powerful means for collaboration between people. […] In the second part of the dream, collaborations extend to computers. Machines become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. “
An ever more connected web is emerging. On it machines understand web content better and the sophisticated ways they index classify and retrieve information are constantly improving. This in turn changes the way we access content as well as the way we create publish and interact with that content online (the way we read and write included). Machines play key role in these processes.
Instead of being frustrated and fearing data and machines that will take over, we should be loving the algorithm lent by a machine “in facilitating and improving personal and social activities and engagements, decision making, interaction with physical and social worlds, generating insights” (quote by Amit Sheth et al., from Physical-Cyber-Social Computing: An Early 21st Century Approach to Computing for Human Experience)
A not so scary definition of data
One of the most useful and easy to grasp descriptions for data belongs to Kingsley Idehen. Data, he says, is “how we express Observation in reusable form. And Observation is the Perception of Relationships between Entities. YOUR OBSERVATIONS could be PEOPLE, PLACES, MUSIC, DOCUMENTS, CALENDARS, DIARIES, ADDRESS BOOKS & MORE” (quote from: Understanding Data)
Writing as producing data
It’s only when text marries the idea of being tagged, marked up and properly presented to search engines to be recognized and understood, that it will start living the life it was meant to live – forever entering an indefinite number of relations that are easily traceable by both people and machines and hence useful and valuable.
Web writing does structure our digital footprint with the help of computing. Our experiences are transformed into digital presence by being objectivized and logged as data. We are writing in an ever more traceable environment with an ever increasing set of connections and touching points. Technology is the mediator of our social activities and the reason machines matter in our writing equation.
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Weaving a Text
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STEP 1: INTENT
Knowing what you want to achieve with your text sets the parameters and the basic structure of your content: it is you who decide what information about yourself you would like to leave on the Web and what connections you would like to build with writing a piece.
Before you start weaving a text, answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of your text?
- What is its topic?
- What the readers need to know that will be included in the text?
- What form will best suit your message?
- What words do you want to be associated with?
- What is thought-provoking (invites to a conversation) for the people you are writing this text for?
STEP 2: CONTEXT
Context, story, people, media environments are an indelible part of your text and the messages you send. Paying close attention to these surroundings helps you organically grow networks of texts that resonate. While writing for the web stay integer to your readers and give them what they want, quickly, easily, where they want it.
Let the following principles guide you:
– Write to inform
– Fight for clarity
– Stay relevant
– Engage in (ignite) dialogues
– Mind linking, readability and discoverability when putting information on the web
STEP 3: VERVE
Texts that fascinate and intrigue are not necessarily the ones with the most relevant keywords, the best sources selected for citing, or the ones with perfectly polished writing. It’s not the eloquence that matters, it’s clarity, enthusiasm and integrity. Web writing that cares to connect creates multiple entry points to your world for those interested to enter it.
Write to explore, discover, share, connect and don’t forget to:
- be honest, nurturing long-term relationship
- be you, with your voice and your vision
- care about the content you put on the web.
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Further Exploration and Discovery
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Following informative and insightful blogs, knowledgeable people from around the web and engaging in meaningful discussions is key to good writing skills. Here’s a list of recommended people and blogs to follow, as well as several book choices to indulge in (to be updated regularly).
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While I was working on this tiny guide a BBC short movie found me. It was about texts (and other forms of information and knowledge) encoded in DNA: This is how to store human knowledge for eternity.
What an unexpected form of something so intrinsic to our nature and existence: transmitting information, I thought. What other possibilities is the future holding for texts and for our communication tools?
No matter the answer, the most important What? of web writing appears to be:
♦ What is the value that we bring to the digital table (the thinking behind the inking)?
And the most important Why?, behind writing, be it for an incunabula, a DNA structure, a blog post or a meme seems to be:
♦ Why would my thinking matter to someone else?
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Really glad we’ve discovered each other through the power of words, webs and writing. If you want to connect with me, you can send me an email to toshko.afrikanski [@] gmail.com or ping me on Google +.
See you around the web,
p.s. If you liked this guide, you might also like my full course: Content Writing in the Semantic Web (here’s a coupon code for enrolling if you find it interesting: WebWriting2015).