NMS 510: Writing Digital Content (Winter 2016)

Course Description

In this course, you will learn how to create and deploy digital content that is compelling, user-friendly, optimized to travel through the Web, and appropriate for organizational aims. You will read about best practice for writing content on websites and social platforms, and learn typical workflows for evaluating, creating, managing, and governing content. NMS 510 has a substantial, quarter-long client project at its core, designed as an opportunity to translate theory into practice; as part of a team, you will help one of our nonprofit partner organizations—Art on Sedgwick, Chicago Youth Programs, Lincoln Park Community Shelter, or the Rauner Family YMCA—to develop a viable content strategy and documents that will support that strategy.

After successful completion of NMS 510 and its projects, you will have an expanded ability to do the following:

  • Work effectively as part of a team to complete an organizational content-strategy project.
  • Deploy professional genres used to evaluate, create, manage, and govern digital content in organizations (e.g., personas, content audits, editorial calendars, content standards, channel and velocity plans, recommendation reports).
  • Develop, revise, and edit written and visual digital content in ways that align with professional standards for effective Web writing.
  • Articulate the ethical challenges that will likely be encountered by those working to create, circulate, and maintain networked, digital content.



Frick, T. & Eyler-Werve, K. (2015). Return on engagement: Content strategy and web design techniques for digital marketing, 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Redish, J. (2012). Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works, 2nd edition. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Chapters & Articles

Leroux-Miller, K. (2013). Planting your flag at the destination: Setting content marketing goals and measuring processes and Making friends on the trail: What participants, supporters and influencers want from you. In Content marketing for nonprofits: A communications map for engaging your community, becoming a favorite cause, and raising more money (pp. 45-100). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its discontents: A critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos. New media & society, 11(5), 855-874.

Supplemental Readings

Abel, S., and Bailie, R.A. (2014). The language of content strategy. Berkeley, CA: XML Press.

Beasley, M. (2013). Practical web analytics for user experience: How analytics can help you understand your users. Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Bloomstein, M. (2014). Content strategy at work: Real-world stories to strengthen every interactive project. Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Casey, M. (2015). The content strategy toolkit: Methods, guidelines, and templates for getting content right. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Dush, L. (2015). When writing becomes content. College composition and communication 67(2): 173-196.

Halvorson, K., and Rach, M. (2012). Content strategy for the web, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Handley, A. (2014). Everybody writes: Your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content. NJ: Wiley.

Kissane, E. (2011). The elements of content strategy. New York: A Book Apart.


  1. Content Critique: Using principles and practices from Redish’s text, Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works, you will analyze a problematic website of your choice and write a report that summarizes key problems with the site’s content, information architecture, and design. The report will consist largely of annotated screenshots and prioritized lists of problems and solutions, and will be submitted in PDF slide-deck format.
  2. Initial Content Strategy Report: Each team will produce a report for its nonprofit partner organization, focused on discovery and articulation of the nonprofit’s key audiences and messages, which includes most or all of the following items: personas, user-testing reports, competitor/peer analyses, message architecture and core strategy statements, and a content audit. The team will submit one collated report in PDF slide-deck format, with longer documents attached in appendixes. Each team member will also submit a Team Performance Review.
  3. Final Content Strategy Report & Presentation: Each team will produce a report for its nonprofit partner organization, focused on content creation and governance, which includes most or all of the following items: editorial calendar(s), channel and velocity plans, content specifications and structure guidelines, wireframes and sample content, and analytics plans. The team will submit one collated document similar in structure and style to the Initial Content Strategy Report, and each team member will also submit a Team Performance Review. Additionally, the team will make an in-class presentation to all our nonprofit partners.