Course Syllabus

Find Your Niche: Writing for the Web

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Discover the ins and outs of writing for digital outlets and start building your online presence.

Writers are often told that they need to have an online presence, but this task can feel overwhelming. How do you break in? What should you focus on? Get involved in politics or steer clear? This course will introduce you to the “best practices” for web writing and help you dive in successfully.

We will look at examples of outstanding personal blogs, op-eds, essays and articles in order to understand differences among the forms and why certain pieces resonate with readers; we’ll also consider pieces that don’t quite hit the mark in order to understand what’s missing. We’ll explore various approaches to web writing so that you may try a variety of techniques, building on your own interests and strengths and ultimately finding a public voice that feels right. The basics of crafting article pitches, self-promotion, and cultivating persistence will also be covered.

Whether you have a forthcoming book for which you hope to grow a readership and/or simply want to learn how to pitch and place articles with online publications, this workshop will provide you with the tools you need to sharpen your voice and build your online platform.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay for instructor and/or peer review (up to 3,500 words and typically in weeks 3, 6, and 9)
  • optional video conferences that are open to all students in Week 2 (and which will be available afterwards as a recording for those who cannot participate)

Aside from the live conference, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.
To create a better classroom experience for all, you are expected to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback on your work.



Week 1: What is Writing for the Web?

We will begin by exploring the various types of web writing, from personal blogs to op-eds and from news pieces to think pieces. We will identify specific goals for our own writing and why writing for the web is important to us. Through various readings and fun questionnaires, you will identify your own area of expertise and interest in order to create a focus for subsequent assignments. We will also talk broadly about how internet writing has changed over the past decade, and where we are now in terms of what is expected of writers trying to break into this vast field.

Week 2: What Makes Online Pieces Resonate with Readers?

What is it that makes some online pieces go viral and others fall flat? We will examine various online pieces—blogs, articles, and lists—that have resonated with readers in order to understand their power. We will look at literary elements such as the writer’s tone, the issues raised by the pieces, imagery, sentence structure, length, style, storytelling devices, the “hook,” and more. We will also discuss the importance of titles and headlines and how such formatting elements work on readers. You will be asked to write your first blog piece.

Week 3: Writing the How-To Article

One of the great uses of online writing is the imparting of knowledge. The “how-to” form can be useful for anyone trying to share expertise with readers. It can also serve as a great vehicle for satire. We will look at examples, both straightforward and satirical, of the “how-to” form. You will be asked to write your own “how-to” piece, which can be derived from an area of technical expertise or personal experience.

Week 4: The Open Letter

One of the most popular forms of web writing, the “open letter”—whether to a loved one, a political figure, a company, or an abstract idea—is a terrific way for writers to speak up about issues that matter. The open letter allows for powerful emotions and lofty rhetoric as well as, sometimes, humor. We will look at knock-out open letters, discuss their impact, and examine the language utilized. You will write your own open letter to a person/organization/idea of your choosing.

Week 5: Responding to Public Discourse

This week we will look at web pieces that successfully approach contemporary issues through the writer’s fresh lens. You will write your own article that responds to some issue in your daily lives (global, political or interpersonal). This is a chance for you to tell the world how you see things.

Week 6: The List

Readers love lists. They are easy to digest and appeal to the way we tend to read online, usually skimming information more than reading closely. As writers, the list, aka the “listicle,” can be a fun and useful way to organize your ideas and get your message across. Writing lists can also improve your writing skills in surprising ways. This week we will look at a handful of lists, ranging from the thoughtful to the light-hearted, the impassioned to the jokey, and we will discuss what makes these lists resonate with readers. Students will also create their own lists, for discussion and peer review.

Week 7: The Review

Writing online reviews can be a terrific way to leverage your particular area of interest and/or expertise. A writer trying to promote a food-oriented memoir, for instance, might review the references to food in a particular movie. A feminist author might want to look at how gender is represented in certain TV shows. Or you might simply be hoping to grow an audience for a certain work or kind of art by bringing attention to it. We will look at successful reviews that are focused, smart, and ethical. You will write your own reviews.

Week 8: Responsible Web Writing through Revision

A little past the halfway point, we will discuss strategies of revision. Web writing is, by nature, casual, but it’s important to remember that it is also public. We always want to put our best feet forward, both in terms of craft and the ideas we espouse. How can we vet our own posts before they go live? What sorts of things should we look out for? Have we used all our literary tools—imagery, sentence structure, voice, storytelling, creating a good “hook”—in order to write the best possible pieces? Have we titled our articles in the best possible way? This week we will review tools that make us better and more responsible writers. You will revise one of your previously written pieces with an eye toward making the writing stronger and ideas sharper.

Week 9: The Interview

One of the challenges of regular web writing is coming up with ideas. Interviewing an expert is a great way to get fresh material, while also celebrating someone important and building connections in your field. Here we will look at outstanding interviews that work well for online reading. What kinds of questions draw in readers? How long should questions be? Why might one interview work while another falls flat? You will be asked to conduct an interview and write it up as a blog post.

Week 10: Crafting the Pitch, Promoting Your Work, Being Brave and Persistent

If you write for a personal blog, naturally, getting your work online won’t be a problem. But if you are looking to break into larger, more competitive venues, you will need to know how to present yourself and your ideas. We will consider a handful of the more prestigious venues—The New York Times blogs, Salon, Slate, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, etc.—and discuss best practices pitching ideas, as well as specific guidelines and requirements for each outlet. Briefly, we will also discuss approaches to marketing one’s articles through social media and networking. Finally, you will do some fun exercises meant to ensure a practice of continued bravery, resilience, and persistence.