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The Online Writing Process

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If you intend to produce your story for the Web, you need to plan for hyperlinks and the nonlinear form of Web stories. “Nonlinear structure” means the readers can enter the story or Web page at any point and can access the elements in any order they choose. To move from element to element, readers clock on “hyperlinks” that will take them to other sites or other topics within the same Web site. Conversely, linear stories are presented in a set order from beginning to end, like a straight line. Readers have no control over the presentation except to stop reading. Broadcast news shows are also linear. You can click to another channel, but you can’t change the order of the news stories.

Planning. Before you report or write an online story, consider the following questions: Will the story be presented in one long story, or will it be split into several sections? What documents or links will accompany your story? Do you need to tape comments for audio or video presentation? What interactive features will the story offer?

Gathering. If you decide during the planning process to offer audio, video, graphics and other elements, you need to gather those materials in the reporting process.

Organizing. Writing a story for the Web requires a different form of organization from print presentation. You need to envision all the elements that will accompany your story, such as hyperlinks, feedbacks questions, time lines and full-text documents. You also should consider whether the story will be written in one piece or in several chunks on separate Web pages.

Instead of outlining a story, use a “storyboard” – similar to an organizational chart, which shows the relationships of elements – to organize your web page or site. Even if you are planning to write your story as one linear piece, you can still use a storyboard to envision the parts of your story, which might be subtopics.

Writing. Once you have designed your storyboard and determine the elements that will accompany your story, start with the end – a feedback question. By writing a question your readers might want to respond to, you will identify the focus and the information crucial to include in your story. Next write your story as a brief. Web readers want stories in layers: Some want only the brief, others want more depth. Then write your full story, but keep the sentences and the paragraphs short. Online readers tend to scan more than read thoroughly. Including subheads also helps web readers, who want information quickly.

Rewriting. Cut every unnecessary word. Eliminate any information that isn’t crucial or that can be provided as a link for readers who want more depth.

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