It is highly likely that you will be asked to write a blog post or online article for the future company you work for. Even if you go into academia, most departments expect their professors to have an online presence. Often, these online writing is persuasive and informative. They ask the reader to reconsider previously held ideas or to take action. Like all of the other genres we've discussed in this textbook, an understanding of audience is extremely important.
One of the worst things you can do when writing online is to write in a manner inconsistent with your target medium. Just as you adopt a different tone in letters asking Mom for money than you would in a letter to your bank asking for a loan, you also must know the conventions of the place where your writing will be read.Your tone must be balanced and consistent and your voice unique—humorous or cynical, angry or sorrowful, objective or contemplative--but definitely the voice of the writer. If you're writing for your job, remember that you are not writing as a private individual, but as an employee. You are an extension of the company and must write as such.
As you'e writing, follow these steps. First, state the issue at hand. Good pieces evolve from current issues concerning and intriguing the intended readers. Next, state a position on the question or issue. The best and most effective pieces then go on to state the opposite position's best argument, which is then knocked down by the writer's better argument. Back your position with evidence, data and stories. Last, provide a call to action or restate the issue you want your audience to reconsider. Remember the tips for writing for General Audiences in Chapter 14.
Start with an attention-grabbing opening line that cuts to the heart of your key message and encourages people to read further. Online articles are meant to be read quickly. If an article is not interesting, readers generally will not bother finishing it. Therefore, it is crucial that you begin with a good lead, an opening sentence or story that "hooks" readers immediately and makes them want to read on. A good lead tantalizes, informs, and sets the tone for the piece. It can even be creative.
For instance, an editorial on gambling in the Wall Street Journal began with a paraphrase of Dr. Seuss: "I do like gambling, Sam-I-Am, I really like it, and I can. For I can do it in a plane, on a boat, at the track, and in the rain. I can do it in a casino, with the lottery, or with Keno."
This type of beginning immediately evokes an emotion reminiscent of books from childhood but with a grown-up theme. This leads to curiosity and reading on. Readers make decisions on whether or not to read an article by how they respond to the headline and the first sentence. In other words, the first line is the display-window for all the goodies you have inside; waste no time in getting to your point.
Use active and conversational voice
Emphasize active verbs. Don't overuse adjectives and adverbs, which only weaken writing. Write to the level of your audience.
Keep paragraphs short but variable
In general, paragraphs should be no more than 3-5 sentences. Keep sentences short. If a sentence is overly long, your audience will get lost (and bored).
If you want to deliver a really punchy point, remember—single sentence paragraphs rock!
The reason is "gray space," the way a long block of text tends to turn gray upon glancing. The most important consideration about shorter paragraphs is that they're easier for readers to read. Long unbroken blocks of text are daunting to most readers. Frequent paragraphs promise a sort of "rest stop" to readers. One advantage to this is that you don't need to keep your paragraphs wholly unified and long as in academic writing.
Find the story
We all love dazzling our friends with great data and facts, but to really make an impact with your piece wrap your data in a story. Refer to real world events or personal experiences that you and your audience have likely encountered. Don’t try just to teach your readers, touch them emotionally.
Images are often the first things that hook the reader. Make sure that your images promote your message and are there for a purpose. Make sure that the images you use create a cohesive aesthetic for the article, post, or overall blog. Just like your words tell a story about the content and the writer, so do your images. A word of caution—provide proper attribution for each image you include. If you don't know if an image is copyrighted, don't use it. Instead go to Creative Commons or my personal favorite: Unsplash where you can find thousands of beautiful, copyright-free images.
You can also do an Advanced Search in google imge search to find copyright-free images. Under "Settings," click "Advanced Search" and then at the bottom look for "Usage Rights." Click on the drop-down menu and choose "Free to Use or Share." Now all the images that come up in your search will be free to use.
Beware that even if an image is free to use or share, you still need to say where you got it. Look through this textbook and notice that all the images are copyright-free or have a Creative Commons copyright. Note also that we always say where the images some from--that's called Attribution and is often required, so just get used to doing it. Be a responsible online writer! Give credit!
An information graphic is a document that uniquely displays information and data in a compelling way. The use of graphics, images, and symbols allows readers to download information much more quickly than text alone. You have probably seen them used for advertising or public service ads. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the sponsoring institution of BYU) even has a collection of infographics in their Newsroom which communicate complex or controversial topics in an easy to read format.
Check out this infographic of infographics to get a look at the genre.
As rhetorical masters you are ready to go beyond writing documents; now you can design them. Now you get to use the rhetorical principles we have discussed throughout this textbook in an even more engaging way. There are many different modes of rhetoric—remember, everything is rhetoric—but each mode has its own rhetorical strengths and weaknesses.
Your audience will be anyone who is interested in the information you are presenting in your infographic. You need to create a document that will engage and inform them quickly, and inspire them to seek out further knowledge. Because of its easy access and shareability, your infographic will pull in a much larger secondary audience. So, be sure to create a document that less-informed audience members will understand and appreciate.
In addition to Photoshop, InDesign, and Powerpoint, there are many online infographic generators to choose from. Check out the following generators and find one the suits your needs:
Formatting an infographic
Formatting is entirely up to you. A good rule of thumb is to use around 250 words of text in your document and a combination of images and charts/graphs. Simplified images are usually better than actual photos. Just remember: your visual rhetoric should make your argument as effectively as your written rhetoric does.
Beware of including information that comes from only one source, since this can unfairly drive the facts towards a particular conclusion. In the social sciences, this is called single-source bias. Look at your infographic the same way that you would a research paper or a university essay. The more sources you have, and the more building blocks you have to tell an interesting story, and the more credible that story is.