December 2008 Archives

Welcome to the World, Baby WAF

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In my first effort as a web writer/designer, I have created a website for the JoAnne Boyle World Affairs Forum (WAF), an organization which I am a part of at Seton Hill University.  The site was completed as part of the class, EL236 Writing for the Internet.

As a practical junction to my website, I also drafted a set of instructions, which in theory, would be used by another WAF member to maintain, update, and add to the site.

I coded in basic HTML and CSS in Microsoft NotePad, but I aimed for the highest standard of professional design, organization and writing that my skills could allow.  All questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome!

The Project:

My work as part of the course was, in part, a semester-long preparation for creating the WAF website. I was challenged to learn different skills and perspectives; in a way, then, I was asked to try on several different "hats," the hat of "copy writer," "internet programmer," "cultural analyst," "creative writer," "usability tester" and "usability test administrator."  My site, then, should not only be viewed as an informational/corporate website about WAF, but as a first exhibition of all the elements necessary for effective, albeit simplistic, web communication.

The Process:

In making both the WAF website and the maintenance instructions, I discovered that user-testing, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor interaction was essential. 

Usability testing was a topic we covered as part of the course; we read about it, discussed its practices and uses, acted as a tester and designed, administered, and reviewed our own usability test.  But during the actual design and implication of my project (and my classmate's projects), the benefits of user testing came to fruition. We were required to submit a formal Alpha Release and Beta Release, a respective "early" and "late" rough draft, and the subsequent Alpha testing and Beta Testing were much-needed benchmarks in what developed into a long succession of small steps.  

My blogging doesn't cover the entire spectrum of interaction I had, though.  In class, I was able to get informal "tests" and reactions from classmates Chelsea, Anne, and Aero. Outside of class I tested two different "cold" users, on both my site and my instructions.  

From this process of interaction, both formal and informal, I made some significant changes.

Based on user's responses in Alpha testing, I:

  •   Added footer information: the linked SHU logo and SHU information
  • "Texturized" the black sidebar to add visual interest
  • Added information to the "Events" page about attending events; who can attend, advertising, and cost

Users also suggested adding more pictures; I considered this, and would have liked to add more pictures of our speakers, but I decided against this given the sensitive nature of their situations.  Some are exiled and some are from countries undergoing political persecution.

Based on user's responses in Beta testing, I:

  • Expanded the WAF history on the
  •  "About WAF" page
  • Added a project "disclaimer" Credited myself as the site's creator and added my contact information in relation to the site (This addition was also made to appease other user's suggestions about adding a vehicle for interaction on the site - like a blog or message board.  Given time and my abilities, I was unable to do anything that extensive.  In the future, perhaps...)
  • Changed the title banner's colors
  •  Expanded my instructions to include HTML examples

On my own, I also:

  • Reorganized the homepage information for clarity
  • Credited all pictures
  • Changed the color of links to match the updated banner

In Summation:

Each class period and each hour at home in which I worked on my site was one small step toward the finished product.  And I didn't even realize it.  Around the point of my Beta Release, I look at my site and realized with surprise that I had nothing left to do (from my point of view, at least; but that's where those all-important testers came in).  I was baffled that I had accomplished that much; where, it the middle of checking for closed tags and uploading graphics with the just right color, did I finish my site?   Looking back, I see now that it was in these small moves.

And this process is something I can apply to any future project, website or otherwise; s very smooth process of proposal, draft, testing, revision, re-testing, revision.  However, as a course project, there was a very clear-cut point of "completion" for creating this site. Outside the academic setting, though, I think there is no real "finished" project.  Projects can always be tested, revised, and improved.  Even what I've created here could (possibly) change, grow, revise, and "live" on the internet indefinitely.  Now how about that for a sense of accomplishment? 

Notes:

I would not have been able to complete this project without consulting the work of:

Elizabeth Castro, Creating a Web Page with HTML

Steve Krug, Don't Make me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Crawford Kilian, Writing for the Web 3.0 

Van SEO Design CSS blog, http://www.vanseodesign.com/blog/category/css/

Blogging Portfolio 4: Watching the Process in Action

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It's been a long, tough climb, but I’ve almost reached the top of the Writing for the Internet mountain.  As we entered the final portion of the course, it was more about applying skills than learning skills.  The class spent the better part of the semester learning various types of internet writing, from HTML coding and website content writing, to interactive fiction games and creative hypertext. 

We wrote for the internet.  We read about writing for the internet.  We practiced writing for the internet.  We were tested on writing for the internet. We had others test our work. We talked about our own writing for the internet.  We blogged about writing for the internet.  Finally, we were able to apply internet writing skills in a project of our choice: we were asked to create either an informative hypertext (website), a creative hypertext project, or an interactive fiction game.  I chose to design a website for an on-campus organization at Seton Hill, The JoAnne Boyle World Affairs Forum. 

Our projects, however, began an entirely new series of small-step learning and projects.  We drafted a project proposal, submitted project progress reports, submitted an Alpha Release of our projects, administered Alpha testing, revised, drafted a Beta Release, administered Beta testing, and revised again...And now viola!  We are on the verge of a finished project.  Along the way, we offered advice to one another, both in-class and via blog.

If you're interested in seeing this process in action, see the compilation of blog entries below.  It's not a traditional blogging portfolio, but I think it chronicles the steps of the project completion process nicely, and particularly highlights the importance of student interaction in problem solving. 

Project Progress:

These series of blogs chronicled the progression of my term project.

Progress Report - After submitting my Project Proposal, I blogged about the very early stages of my project.  It wasn't about getting anything coded or written at this point, it was more about brainstorming ideas and mentally mapping my project's path.

Alpha Report - The Alpha Release of my website was a half-completed draft; I blogged about user testing of my Alpha Release, the suggestions I got from it, and the revisions I hoped to make.   

Beta Report - You get the idea: Much like the Alpha Release, the Beta Release was a draft that was user-tested and then revised based on the test results.  However, this draft was at a much more developed stage.  I had a completed product that I had worked to fruition, but needed to hand it over to users to see what steps/changes to make next.

Interaction:

Interaction and problem-solving was vital to the term projects.  The links show comments I made on class mate's blogs to help in their project.

Chelsea's Blog - I try to offer some ideas for expanding her project, and when all else fails...I volunteer to test.

Maddie's Blog - Offering words of encouragement, and of course, volunteering to test.

Andy's Blog - Acting as a tester, I offer some specific suggestions

Aja's Blog - Helping her slove a blackground problem

Reflection:

Expectations - Based on a class discussion, I decided to blog about my expectations going into this class, Writing for the Internet, and what I actually got out of the experience

 

Writing for the Internet: Expectations

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Based on today's class discussion, I thought I'd write a little about what I expected from this course and what I discovered from taking it. 

My answer to the question, "Was this course what you expected?"  No! Not by a long shot!  But it might not be what you think; in this case, a course not living up to my expectations was actually a good thing.

When I approached this course, titled "Writing for the Internet," I assumed that it would be, completely and solely, about writing the content of various websites for various users.  I figured we'd incorporate some internet-specific writing styles, organization and tone.  I also assumed we'd work on focusing and tailoring our writing to appeal to various target audiences, or in this case, various target users.

The course did indeed cover these points, but it also covered a lot of other topics.  We discussed and learned the literal writing of the internet, in HTML and CSS code.  My jaw probably dropped in surprise when I first found out we'd be covering this in class; by no stretch of the imagination am I programming savvy (I still don’t think I’d consider myself this).  But the lessons on coding, coupled with the writing and organizational tips made in the Krug text, are probably the most worthwhile pieces of knowledge I’ve gained out of everything we covered, and I've improved (I think!) tremendously in these areas.  These skills will definitely help me in the long-run.

Writing for the Internet also covered types of writing I never knew existed - like interactive fiction and creative hypertext.  We also reviewed the fundamentals of user testing, a little-known but integral part of writing for the internet.  I've learned that writing for the internet and user testing are best used as a pair; you can write for the internet without performing any user testing, but you can't produce your best work without leaving it in the hands (or mouse) of a user. We also touched on topics like chat-speak, appropriate e-mail formatting and the effects of internet networking (pictures & postings on Facebook/MySpace, trolling, Wikipedia).

With all this said, I can now see that I approached this course from a very limited perspective - so limited, in fact, that I didn't even realize my own shortcomings!  I viewed the internet in a certain way and used it to accomplish certain tasks, so my expectations of this class were limited accordingly.  I could only envision myself writing for the internet in a way that I had commonly seen and read.  However, I now know that there are many styles and forms of internet writing, some which are far-removed from the corporate writing I was familiar with. But having this basic knowledge of several types of internet writing has helped me develop a wider perspective on and truly deeper understanding of the cultural implications and effects of this crazy, massive thing we call the internet.  So the class may not have met my expectations, but I think I am all the better for it.