Making a Content Web Site

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OK, this is one of the more important web pages in this web site. This is about content. This information can be used for research papers, essays, and speeches, because it's all about Communication in the end.

The ultimate purpose of a content-based web site is Communication. You are trying to get your point across to an audience. Period. With web pages, you've got advantages that plain 8 1/2 X 11 white sheets of paper with black text just don't have - I've mentioned them before: pictures, movement, choice, freedom, sound, color, etc. However, the process to creating a content-based web site is exactly the same as writing an research paper: you gotta gather the information first.

And I'm serious. You can call it the English professor in me, but you will waste your time and efforts if you don't gather those pieces together first. And I wouldn't attempt to tell you these things if I thought I was creating work for you rather than saving you precious time and effort. We no longer have time to dilly-dally around as instructors.

One of the ways I describe this in my English classes is that writing a research paper or building a web site is like building a wedding cake. The metaphor follows perfectly:

First, you gather together the eggs, flour, sugar, etc. and mix the cake: that's finding all the sources for the paper or web site. This may mean going to grocery store to get all the ingredients. For the paper, that may mean going to the library or going online to find the information.

Second, you mix it together - and if you have followed recipes before, there is a certain order things go in - that's putting all of the info in some kind of order that makes sense before you begin to write.

Third, you place layer upon layer of the piece of baked cake on top of each other - that's the points in the paper or the sub-pages of the web site.

Fourth, you put icing on the cake: that's making sure all your paragraphs are grammatically correct or your web site is textually right with the right hyperlinks and such.

Fifth, You put appropriate roses and wedding couple on top: for the paper, you add the Works Cited page and Title page with other pages numbered and formatted correctly: for the web site, you add the graphics and the animations and the multimedia making sure it looks connected either in color or theme.

I'm telling you two things in this metaphor:

1. Get all your info together first. It dictates your theme, color scheme, navigation scheme, hierarchy of pages, etc.

2. Add the special stuff (graphics/multimedia) after you get the foundation (text and format) together.

If you follow this procedure, you will save yourself time in the "manufacturing" end of this process. Making a content-based web site is 90% planning and 10% work. This doesn't mean you can't modify your web site later. It means that if you have a good plan, you do not have to go back and rework major sections of your web site later, wasting your valuable time.

I'm going to repeat this one more time for emphasis: tell the students to gather their information first then teach them the steps of creating a web site. There is nothing more frustrating than watching the student try to do two things at once and do them both badly as their attention is split. Students need to concentrate on each process/learning experience separately so that both lessons make an impact. If you try and do both simultaneously, the students will inevitably pay attention to only the web site creation and not the content. They will turn in horrible projects that do not satisfy your requirements, because they have split their concentration in two. And here's the kicker: you'll end up teaching a web design class rather than your subject. Let's remember: the purpose of getting students to do content based web sites is not to teach them how to make web sites, but

  1. to give them an option and alternative to the research paper
  2. to give them another valuable skill and learning experience
  3. create variety in the classroom
  4. give YOU the instructor something different to evaluate the student's learning ability
  5. give YOU something different for your teaching experience

At anytime that you feel the web site creation is standing in the way of learning the topic, simply revert to your normal tried and true methods. The content should always come first; the web site creation should come second. You are instructors of a subject like English, History, or even Mathematics and Biology, not suddenly instructors of web page design. This is why this web site does not get into great detail or complicated code. It has enough in it to allow anyone to manipulate the text and images for a decent and informative web site with a good design.

Let me get specific to help you in this endeavor:

1. Determine your audience - this will let you know many design factors from navigation to amount of content, type of content, and even sometimes what kind of multimedia is necessary for the content.

2. Gather your information up front. Of course, you will not get every single thing you need at the beginning, but try to get the most information and even graphics before you begin.

3. Once you gathered the majority of the information, you can prioritize and organize that information. You will be able to tell if your web site should be linear in nature or has multiple sublevels or how many web pages you will need in the overall web site. For example, if I was to do a web site on the theories about the sinking of the Titanic, after gathering the information, I might determine that there are three main huge theories that I would have to concentrate on - therefore, I will have at a minimum three subpages with the individual theories with one big home page (introduction) about the topic. This is a much better way to start than making page after page as I do the research without knowing how many I'll ultimately need. Saves time and effort.

4. Then when I have a basic idea of what to do, I start creating web pages. I add the more complicated pieces last (multimedia, animated graphics, etc.)

5. Look back at your design and don't be afraid to modify it. To keep from changing things continuously and to know when to stop modifying it - ask yourself: will this change enhance, add, or otherwise make the information more understandable to my audience? If this answer is no, then don't make the change. You are in "whim" territory and wasting your precious time. It's particularly difficult to know when to stop tweaking a web site, so that question is vital. By their nature, web sites are not necessarily under construction, but are evolving. Stop adding and start testing it, because you aren't done yet.

6. Test the web site out. Show it to someone that you believe makes a good viewer and listen to their concerns. Make adjustments based on those critiquing comments IF the comments pass the litmus test above: Will making the change improve the web site's ability to communicate the information? If not, move on. You've got better things to do with your time such as making another web site.

And now there's one last thing about Content that is always next on the Question list: Copyright. The best advice I can give you is the advice given to me by the head librarian and law school professor of Washington and Lee and by a leading professor from the University of North Carolina: when in doubt, ask permission. And I have to tell you an anecdote about this just to prove how wonderful the Net is. Even though one might argue that your students' web sites are for educational purposes and satisfy all four points of Fair Use, I have found that when I contact the originator of images or documentation, I always find out more information or I am pointed to better graphics by the original author. For instance, I had to create an Ophthalmic department web site and by contacting the owner of a awesome graphic of the veins within the eyeball to use as a graphic on my site, I ended up learning about national listservs that the professors of that department linked on their web site.

The Net was originally designed to share and communicate knowledge, so continue to use it as your door to new and wonderful connections

The How section of Content gives you several links to web sties to find images, information, and even software and other programs to help you gather the subject matter and then how to get web editing software to put it all together.

Next, Conclusion.

Opening Statement Text Image Tables Hyperlinks Navigation Artistic Concerns Content Conclusion

Making a Content Web Site

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Content
Why is it important

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