How to write for the web: Writing guidelines and sample rewrite

Participants in my free online course in Writing for the Web are asked to rewrite sample online articles following writing guidelines discussed in class. I want to share with my readers a rewrite by a course participant, Keith Perch, who is a freelance UK writer.

The assignment

Assume you are editor of a website and you want to publish one or more of the five articles we critiqued last week. Try to rewrite the article using the web writing techniques we have learned and discussed so far.

Try to follow the template below; you may want to first create a draft in a separate word processing program, go through rounds of revision, then paste the finished rewrite as a new discussion topic here.

  1. Read the article and summarize the main ideas/highlights/conclusions in two or three sentences, this will go to the beginning and serve as an overview of the rewritten article.
  2. Read the article again, identify at least two sub-topics, and restructure the article into two or more sections accordingly.
  3. Work on a subhead for each section.
  4. Read each section and summarize the main ideas for that section in two or three sentences, this will go to the beginning of each section and serve as a “section overview.”
  5. Break long paragraphs into shorter ones – one idea, one paragraph; use lists where appropriate; cut out non-essential information and words – keep the rewrite short and concise.

A rewrite by course participant Keith Perch

Keith chose to work on Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?, a New York Times article published in June 2013. The rewrite, with the headline “Parents should have only one child,” is copied below in between the two dotted lines. You can see the basic structure of his rewrite is an intro with three sub-sections.

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Parents should have only one child

Parents should have only one child to help preserve the world’s resources, according to the author of a new book.

She also says only children are more intelligent, achieve more and have greater self-esteem than those who have brothers or sisters – and that their parents are happier than parents with more than one child.

Author, and mother of an only child, Lauren Sandler, claims that the research contradicts commonly held beliefs that only children grow up ‘rotten with selfishness and beset by loneliness.’

People believe parents with only one child are selfish

Sandler says that people believe parents who have only one child are selfish and:

  • We don’t like being parents
  • We care more about our status, work and money than our child, or
  • We waited too long

“A general picture emerges that only children are loners, misfits and always, always selfish. I don’t buy it,” Sandler says.

Only children are more intelligent and achieve more

Sandler quotes research showing only children:

  • Scored as well as those with siblings in tests for characteristics such as leadership, maturity, popularity, generosity and contentment
  • Are not lonely
  • Have as many friends as anyone else
  • Have cherished and nurtured friendships

“Hundreds of studies in the 1980s and found that only children had demonstrably higher intelligence and achievement; only children have also been found to have more self-esteem,” says Sandler.

“These findings, which have been confirmed repeatedly in recent years, hold true regardless of whether parents of only children stayed together and regardless of economic class.”

One-child families make sense

This would be a good time to question the misconceptions about only children.

“For one thing, one-child families make obvious sense in a time of diminishing resources.”

“Call me selfish but, as the mother of one child, I enjoy more time, energy and resources than I would if I had more children. And it is hard to imagine that this isn’t better for my family as well as for me,” Sandler added.

Lauren Sandler is the author of the book “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

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Comments by course facilitator Mu Lin

Good job, Keith. You and Robin are really devoting much of your time and energy into this exercise.

From a technical standpoint, this rewrite is much easier to read and follow. – the subheads, the shorter paragraphs, the inverted pyramid, the bullet lists, the pictures, among others. So where in the original article did you identify the highlights/conclusion? The 3rd paragraph?

There’s one section where the author uses several paragraphs to talk about “only children experience more intensely emotional family lives,” which is sort of a “downside” and runs against the theme you chose for the rewrite that “parents should have one child.” Was that why you dropped that section altogether?

Comments by Keith on his rewrite

It took me a couple of goes to do it as I wasn’t sure what the intro should be.

Controversial ‘one-child’ suggestion would attract readers

I originally wrote it around the suggestion that research contradicted the common beliefs, but eventually decided the ‘parents should have only one child’ was more controversial and, perhaps, more likely to drag readers in – either because they totally disagreed (probably have more than one child and don’t want to be lectured at!) or because it re-affirms their own decision to have only one child.

I think the line about having only one child because of a scarcity of resources was actually very near the end of the original article and the original writer may well say that I have emphasised something that was more of a throw-away comment in her original work. Nevertheless, she did say it.

Some only-children are suffocated by their parents’ love

I did originally put the line about the intensity of emotion into my re-write, but thought that it was so contrary to everything else she was saying, that it simply confused the article and would, therefore, have made the article too long if properly explained.

I think that if I had been blogging about this, I would probably have written a second post around that intensity as she says more than one thing about it:

  • Parents of only children give a more focussed love to their child
  • The children feel this intensity
  • Some think it is suffocating (although others think it is enriching)
  • It makes it so that single children find it harder to deal with the death of their parents

I guess it would also have given me the chance to put a promotional line on the bottom of my first post to try to persuade people to come back to read more.

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Mu Lin

Founder at MutuStar LLC
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.
Mu Lin
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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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