A case study of writing for the web: How to rewrite for online readers

A participant in my open online course Writing for the Web did a good job rewriting an article following web-writing guidelines discussed in class. I want to share with my blog readers the analysis and rewrite by this participant.

About the course: Writing for the Web is a free online course offered through this blog. The course focuses on writing techniques that cater to the special reading pattern of online readers.

About the assignment: one assignment is for students to choose a sample online article, analyze the article for how it can be improved to facilitate online reading, and rewrite it following a template.

About the rewrite: from among the sample online articles discussed in class, Angela Moxley chose to work on a New York Times article titled “Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?” Attached in this post is her analysis and rewrite.

Article analysis by Angela Moxley

I trimmed this by about 200 words and, I hope, made it more scannable and readable. Among the changes:

-I gave it a headline that summed up the main points of the piece and, by presenting surprising information, hopefully makes people want to read it.

-Previously the first three paragraphs were all about the negatives of raising only children, so it took a while to get to the author’s point that people are wrong about the negatives. So I started the piece with one sentence summing up her overall takeaway. I did spell out the negative assumptions in the second graph but tried to do so quickly and immediately switched back to the positives.

-I pulled out three main research findings as subheads.

-I tried to put extraneous details about the studies – the 5 W’s and the H – into the background rather than making them the main focus of sentences. That’s info people can skim past/block out and we don’t want them to read past the good stuff too.

-There were two concepts in here that kind of contradicted her main point: only-child life can be suffocating, and many only children may decide to have multiple children so their kids don’t have to shoulder elder care-taking alone. I don’t feel the author adequately addressed these in her version, so I tried to work on them. I made the first one a caveat and rebutted the second with one of her other main points.

Rewrite by Angela Moxley

Only Children Are Less Selfish and More Connected than We Think


I have an only child, and for now at least, I plan to keep it that way, for my happiness and hers: As an only child myself and someone who has just spent three years writing about the subject, I’m convinced that we only-child parents can ignore the general opprobrium against “depriving” our kids of siblings.

Some condemn only-child parents for dooming their children to a life rotten with selfishness and beset with loneliness and social ostracism. If a child doesn’t have siblings, it’s generally assumed it’s because the parents are selfish: We don’t like being parents; we care more about our status — work, money, materialism; we waited too long.

But consider the data: In hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits — including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability and contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings. And endless research shows that only children are, in fact, no more self-involved than anyone else. It turns out brutal sibling rivalry isn’t necessary to beat the ego out of us; peers and classmates do the job.

Given that one in five American families today have just one child, it seems like a good time to question strong cultural beliefs against raising children without siblings.

Solitude is not synonymous with loneliness and often strengthens character

That’s among the findings by Toni Falbo at the University of Texas and her colleague Denise Polit. As one psychotherapist explained to me, only children tend to have stronger primary relationships with themselves. And nothing provides better armor against loneliness.

Only children surveyed in an Ohio State study of over 13,000 children had as many friends as anyone else; many of the grown only children I’ve interviewed enjoyed cherished and nurtured friendships that they often regarded with a familial sense of permanence and loyalty.

Only children demonstrate higher intelligence, achievement, and self-esteem

These findings — derived from Falbo and Polit’s examination of hundreds of studies from the 1980s and confirmed repeatedly in recent years — hold true regardless of whether parents of only children stayed together and regardless of economic class.

Researchers like the sociologist Judith Blake believe this is because parents who have just one child are able to devote more time, money and attention to them than parents who have to divide resources among more children.

Blake adds that only children are often raised in richer verbal environments, and they share meals and other activities with adults. (I love it that an artist friend still brags that my daughter was 2 when she insisted that a crayon was “magenta, not pink.”)

One caveat: The intensely emotional family lives of only children — the more focused parental gaze, the more concentrated love — can be suffocating. Many grown only children told me that they wanted their first child to have a sibling precisely because this kind of intensity was too much for them.

Parents who have one child tend to be happier

In a recent University of Pennsylvania survey of 35,000 sets of twins, Hans-Peter Kohler found that the happiest mothers had just one child. Personally, I enjoy more time, energy and resources than I would if I had more children. And it’s hard to imagine that this isn’t better for my family as well as me; in a time of diminishing resources, one-child families make obvious sense.

The promise of greater overall parental happiness and resources may help allay concerns about facing parental mortality alone; in my interviews with hundreds of only children, this was one of the most viscerally felt factors in deciding how many children to have. As it turns out, children with siblings don’t equally shoulder the burden of elderly care-taking anyway; rather, this duty most often falls to the closet living sibling, the National Alliance for Caregiving has shown.

Most people say they have their first child for themselves and the second to benefit their first. But if children aren’t inherently worse off without siblings, who is best served by this kind of thinking? Instead of making family choices to fulfill breeding assignments we imagine we’ve been given, we might ensure that our most profound choice is a purely independent, personal one. To do so might even feel like something people rarely associate with parenting: freedom.

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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