Who's Reading This Anyway?

By Tim Nekritz,
Associate Director of Public Affairs and Director of Web Communication

You may find yourself writing Web copy and stop to ask yourself: "Who's reading this anyway?"

Existentially, it's a good question. Strategically, it's a GREAT question.

Thinking about your audience is one of the keys to communicating effectively. Imagine a trip to the bookstore. You don't expect children's books to be written the same way as murder mysteries, self-help guides or books for new parents.

Yet when it comes to writing for the Web, many people assume readers are interested in the same information they are. Since much of the information on oswego.edu is intended for prospective students, and not many of us are teenagers looking at potential colleges, this would probably not be a valid assumption.

Before writing a Web page, ask yourself:

  • Who will read this page?
  • What will they want to know?
  • What will help convince them to take the desired action?

The first question, I hope, is easy to answer. For the second question, you may want to do a bit of research. Nothing major: Just ask members of the audience or former audience - former prospective students now enrolled here or participating in your program, for instance - what kinds of things they would want to see or didn't see when they looked. And ask what convinced them to take the desired action (apply to Oswego, declare a major, enroll in the special program, etc.) or why they may have hesitated (didn't know how to apply, needed more information, had questions, etc.).

One advantage the Web has over print is that it's a dynamic medium. Because print is a static medium, if you put out a newspaper or flyer or viewbook with an error or dated material, you're stuck with it (until or unless you print something else, sometimes at great expense). With the Web, even after you've posted a page, you can always improve it. So if you receive feedback from your users on things you can improve, you can make them quickly.

Pay attention to questions you get via the Web. If you keep getting the same questions over and over, you probably need to proactively address it - either on your page or by directing readers somewhere they can find the information.

Last but not least, make sure what you have is current; nothing turns off a reader more than when it's obvious a Web page meant for them is hopelessly out of date. If your page says "Upcoming events" and includes something from March 2008, then either there's a tear in the space-time continuum or you really need to update your site.

Remember that Web pages that are lively, helpful and constantly updated are the ones most likely to be read and revisited. This is more likely to happen when you've stopped to ask: "Who's reading this anyway?"

Tim Nekritz is the associate director of public affairs and chief content editor for oswego.edu.