NMS 510: Writing Digital Content (Winter 2017)

Course Description

In this course, you will learn best practices for authoring rhetorically appropriate, usable, and findable written and multimodal digital content, as well as recommended workflows for evaluating, creating, and managing content in organizational settings. While most of our work will be practice-oriented—including tasks to analyze and revise existing web content and a team-based content strategy project for a local nonprofit organization—we will also consider the practical and ethical challenges today’s digital rhetors face, given the template-controlled, commercial, and personalized nature of the web.

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

  • Develop, revise, and edit written and multimodal digital content in ways that align with professional standards for effective web writing.
  • Deploy genres used in the content professions to evaluate, create, and manage digital content in organizations (e.g., personas, editorial calendars, recommendation reports, etc.).
  • Initiate or participate in efforts to assess and revise organizational content, using individual and team practices standard to the content professions (e.g., audits, user research, mock-up development, stakeholder interviews, etc.).
  • Employ basic knowledge of the function and syntax of web coding languages to envision digital projects and troubleshoot broken content.
  • Apply critical web literacy to imagine responsible ways to create and circulate networked, digital content in your personal, civic, and professional life.



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

Pullman, G. (2016). Writing online: Rhetoric for the digital age. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.

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

Chapters & Articles

Arola, K. L. (2010). The design of Web 2.0: The rise of the template, the fall of design. Computers and Composition, 27(1), 4-14.

Bloomstein, M. (2014). How does message architecture drive the content and design? In Content strategy at work: Real-world stories to strengthen every interactive project (27-37). Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Content Marketing Institute (2016). 2016 Nonprofit content marketing: Benchmarks, budgets, and trends—North America. Retrieved from: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2016_NonProfit_Research_FINAL.pdf

Halavais, A. (2016, June 6). The blogosphere and its discontents: Web 2.0 undermining civic Webspaces. First Monday 21(6). Retrieved from http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6788/5518

Kissane, E. (2011). Tools and techniques. In The elements of content strategy (138-70). New York: A Book Apart.

Leroux-Miller, K. (2013). Mapping it out: Sketching out your big picture communication timeline. In Content marketing for nonprofits: A communications map for engaging your community, becoming a favorite cause, and raising more money (141-157). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marantz, A. (2014, January 5). The virologist: How a young entrepreneur built an empire by repackaging memes. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/virologist


  1. Content Critique: Using principles and practices from Redish’s Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works, you will analyze samples of online content from one organization and write a report that identifies key strengths and weaknesses of that content, makes prioritized suggestions for improvement, and presents some concrete revisions. The report will consist largely of annotated screenshots and prioritized lists of strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations, and will be submitted as a visually designed and interactive PDF report for online viewing.
  2. Content Strategy Report for Nonprofit Client: Working with a team of other students, you will produce a report for a nonprofit client, focused on discovery and articulation of the nonprofit’s key audiences and messages, which includes most or all of the following items: a content audit, competitor/peer analyses, user-research reports, personas, a message architecture and core strategy statement, an annual communication calendar, and templates for recommended forms of content. The team will submit one collated report, with longer documents attached in appendixes. Each team member will also submit a Team Performance Review.
  3. Mock-up of Personal Web Portal & Critical Reflection: In this assignment, you will use your conceptual understanding of essential web-coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP), as well as critical perspectives we develop in readings and class discussion, to develop a web page, or ‘portal,’ that serves as your gateway to the online world, where the content and design guide you to productive engagement with the web. With the portal mock-up (no coding necessary, unless you want to try), you will submit a brief technical description and a critical reflection, which uses language from our course readings to explain the logic of your content and design choices.