We’re seven weeks into the program now and it is a good moment to look back and see how far two months of work can take you. When the teams came in, they were a mix of ideas and business planning, with one team (Levaté) having done a few months of human centered design. Two months later, there are teams with paid contracts to start pilots with customers, teams with a big list of interested beta testers, teams with callbacks from directors at universities, teams doing flybys of construction sites and teams exploring partnerships with large institutions.
Writing for the web is a critical skill that will impact a startup during all of its life phases. Writing will almost always be how the company introduces itself to potential customers and investors. As the startup progresses, the kind of writing it will need to do will change based on the target demographic. A first-time customer learning about the business needs a very different type of writing/marketing program than a long-term repeat customer exploring new offerings.
Here is the one page worksheet I use to teach writing for the web.
Step 1 – Time boxing
I find it is much easier to learn to write by actually writing! And the best method for writing for time-pressed startups is time boxing. Time boxing means setting aside a short period of time (I like 15 minutes) to do NOTHING else other than write. That means no email, no phone calls, no drinks of water, no walking around the room – really just writing. And for first drafts, that means spewing everything that’s in your head onto the page. Students are always surprised how much they can get done in ten to fifteen minutes. In my experience, that’s just about enough time to get 500 words out, which is a normal length blog post.
Step 2 – Critique (and learning)
After writing the first draft, and while the content is still in its really raw state, I ask the students to swap with a partner and analyze their partner’s writing using the checklist from above. Pedagogically I think it is easier to learn all of these rules through their practical application and it is easier to see the flaws in other peoples’ work.
Step 3 – Revision
After exchanging commentary, it is time to go back into another timebox (again, 15 minutes is about right) and do a first revision. I ask the students to focus on on quality and readability of the ideas. Each and every blog post or writing should take the customer on a journey, carefully laying out stories or arguments or facts. There will be time later (if necessary) to polish for grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Step 4 – Sharing
The final step is to think about how the writing will be shared on the web. Normally writing will go on the company’s website, because that’s where customers will expect to find information about the product or service. But how will the customer know how to find the content? That’s where sharing the writing via social, Google or email comes into play. The worksheet below is what I use to get the students thinking about the different space and image requirements for each medium.