web content writing being reloaded

Preface: This is a proof of concept post. I’m goofing around with some markdown editors and some new ideas to see how they might work into a revision of Web Content Writing. What follows here is unedited html – warts and all – created from markdown using MarkdownNote. MarkdownNote is a good editor, best I’ve found so far, but the conversion of line breaks adds a full para break rather than a / br. It’s always the little things, innit.

Welcome

This is a first trial at working with a markdown editor as a possible app and approach for Web Writing for Content Writers. Now that I’ve redesigned the course, and since the web has changed, it might be time for a change in what to teach and how.

What has changed?

Web design and web writing have become more and more specialized, which has effectively split the tasks to specialists. Not that they were ever really united, but 10 years ago a writer could be expected to know her way around a web design kit. Not any more. Web design software (i.e. Dreamweaver) has become so arcane that even designers need assistants and cubicle jockeys to get things done.

A second change has been the development of content management software. The design has been templated, and the content writer now works in (or pastes into) a browser window.

As a result, the writer’s position has been moved to the side,

  • doing supplementary IA work
  • providing advice on nomenclature
  • helping with personas and scenarios
  • doing the odd card sort.

And content writing. Sure.

So that changes the focus of the course?

Yes, because the demands have changed, and the position of the writer has changed. Content writers now need to work to spec – number of words, including keywords in the text to please tracking and SEO editors, and the like. What gets a little lost in that are how to use affordances, and how to compose with light punctuation, how to use links effectively, how to negotiate and work with new relationships with audiences, how to work with images, how to work in various contexts (blog v business v educational v wiki v twitter v etc).

A good content writer will know

  • how to write effective permanent pages. that is, content that is fundamental to the local enterprise rather than topical.
  • how to write effective blog posts
  • how to write effective tweets
  • how to handle tags and categories effectively
  • how to draft, revise, and edit wiki pages

What a good content editor will need for tools

One way to run the course is as a mock publishing shop. We would have a WP set up that
* maintains pages as permanent content
* posts that are made as weblog posts, placed in categories and tagged
* posts that also can be integrated with images
* the whole thing intertwingled with Twitter.

I’ll want students to be able to post to a blog written for the class, a wiki for the class, and a twitter account for the class.

To teach workflow and to get a sense of code, I would have students work with a markdown editor – preferably (?) something that lets them manage drafts in progress, although that’s not a big issue.

Workflow

Scenario 1

Set up a space where the texts will be published. Writers can work in the space directly or in a markdown editor. I give them a brief; they produce, revise, and submit the near ready to preview. When ready, publish, and tweet.

Writers may have to find or create images. Find a place to put them, set the formatting, etc. That will require moving back and forth in the weblog editor.

This requires a WP and / or wiki backend. Some assignments will be to revise pages, others to post a timely work in a specified category.

Scenario 2

Live tweeting an event.

Requires a twitter account set up in parallel to the weblog and wiki. Might be done by two or more writers, one handling images.

Scenario 3

Revising a wiki page. This is interesting as it demands moving into refactoring.

Scenario 4

Publishing on writingcommons.org or elsewhere. Hey, and why not?

Set Up

To roll in an internship, we might set up a departmental publishing frame – 0r make it a staging server kind of affair. This requires some discussion with The Man.

Which editor?

alt

While it ultimately doesn’t matter too much, the appearance of the editor, especially the preview, will likely make a difference in how pleasent it is to use.

MarkDownNote
Cheap, simple, access to markdown cheat sheet. Good preview. Minimal options. Some coding on a pop-up list. Copy HTML command under the gear (wrong place for it!) Has iPad version that is better designed. ****

Mark My Words
Ugly preview. One-click coding, but that’s poorly designed. Can mark texts as draft / revision / done, but that’s poorly designed. Templates, but poorly designed. All the workflow accessories are poorly designed. **

ByWord
Not fundmentally a markdown editor, even though it handles markdown. Preview is a separate command, using escape to return to code. Will copy or export HTML. Pretty.

NVAlt
Very convenient. Holds a list of files. Preview in a separate window. Free. ***

Marked
a $4.00 app that monitors another app for markdown.

MultiMarkdown Composer
Support for tables. $8.00 ****

MarkDown Pro
Has an express Save As HTML command.