Re: Students & Web pages (long -sorry!)

Subject: Re: Students & Web pages (long -sorry!)
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 1996 17:07:37 -0700

Patricia Goubil-Gambrell wrote:
>Lately, I have become aware of technical communication instructors (as well as
>instructors in other writing courses) having their undergraduate students
>create Web pages as one of their course assignments. I am not sure this is a
>good practice for various reasons. But I would like to know what professional
>communicators think.

Patricia thought that private responses would be appropriate,
but I have a feeling that this topic will generate at least a
litte interest, so here goes...

>What are your opinions/experiences on the following:

>*How valuable do you think it is to learn to write Web pages in an
>undergraduate introductory technical communication course?

As I mentioned in a previous post on this subject, I think that
writing Web pages could be an important skill for newbie writers.
There are lots of positions in small companies where the technical
writer is responsible for the company's presence on the Web, and a
lot of non-writing hiring managers will look at the skill favorably.

However, as a *writing* hiring manager, I'd put less value on Web
page creation experience than I would on other online writing
experience (e.g., help files).

Why?

Because in many larger companies, Web page maintenance is
a marcom function, not a tech com function.

Because information chunking and non-sequential access is not (or,
at least does not seem to be me to be) as critical for Web pages
as for online help and online documentation. When you're writing
an online help file, you never know where the reader is going to
access the file. If the access mode is context-sensitive or thru
the search engine, the reader can jump in literally anywhere.

On the Web, it's almost certain that the reader will access the index
or home page first, simply because that's the URL that's available.
Then, too, scrolling down an exceptionally long page is often deemed
preferable to jumping to a new page because it shortens access time
on the Web -- this technique is poison to online doc and online help.

Yes, there are lots of Web pages that do a good job of chunking
info for online presentation. But, the success of an online help
or online doc file is far more dependent on good chunking techniques
than is the success of a Web page.


>*Do you think that the writing skills that one uses in creating a Web page
>transfer to other kinds of writing that a person might do on the job?

It's possible, but not certain. Because of the "nature of the beast",
the techniques I've seen used on Web pages fall about half way between
writing for paper and writing for online presentation. The chunking
and paging issues are different than they are for local online
presentations, the timing issues are different. You can't say that
writing for the Web automatically gives you the experience you need
for online help or online doc.

When somebody accesses a Web page, they access via the published
URL, so you know where they're starting (at least the first time).
They don't want to spend a lot of time downloading pages, so
vertical scrolling is used extensively. This allows for a lot
more "sequential" thinking... a much easier "sequential" writing
style.

When somebody access online help, they can jump in anywhere.
They don't want to spend a lot of time reading, and vertical
scroll bars are seldom used -- if it isn't immediately visible,
they assume the info doesn't exist.

Then there's HTML itself. A tag language pretty much like any
other tag language. Learning HTML certainly says something,
but it's no more difficult than learning IPF (for OS/2 help),
or, for that matter, coal-burning WordStar.


>*Have you ever written Web pages in connection with your work?

Nope. Never. I've (voluntarily) created graphics for Web pages,
I've edited Web pages, and I've made suggestions. But I've worked
in two companies now that have had a Web presence and marketing
has held the reins in both instances.

Bottom line -- Web page experience would be preferable to no online
writing experience at all, but online help and/or online doc
experience would be far more valuable to any newbie writer that
I'd be looking to hire.

Just my two cents worth...
Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com
--Reality is frequently inaccurate.

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