Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

March 1997

"Screen" Your Writing: Writing for the Computer Screen

This month, we're going to share a few things to think about when composing for the computer screen and writing for "electric" readers. (In the February issue we covered composing ON a computer.)

First, remember that any time you write--no matter what medium---the most important question to ask yourself is: Who is my audience?

Are you writing for kids or adults? For colleagues? Strangers? Computer neophytes? Computer "nerds"? Backyard gardeners? Farmers? Think about your audience, and target your writing style.

Now let's consider writing on-screen words for electric readers and "pulp" readers (those more used to reading from paper). Electric readers seem to have less patience and be less willing to spend time reading text from the screen. Pulp readers are often simply uncomfortable reading from the screen.

Get the picture? For both audiences, shorter is better.

The following three points may help make your on-screen words effective.

  1. Grab their attention.
    Start with your point. Don't start with background information that will bore some and turn off others. Provide that later, if necessary. (On Web pages, the background and other information can be just one click away on a linked site.)
  2. Give them what they want.
    If you're providing information about planting times for flowers, for example, your on-screen readers don't expect or want the history of flowers. Give them the planting times right up front.
  3. Help them manage their time.
    With longer e-mail messages, it's helpful have a brief summary or a list of contents at the top. Then your readers can decide whether to read all, part, or none of the message.

Another way to improve your on-screen writing is to do lots of electric reading, yourself. Look at other people's e-mail and home pages. Find things that you like and dislike, and use that information.

In future issues of "On Target" we'll revisit writing for the screen, but we've used enough electrons for now.

Editing Your Own Words

You've just cranked out this month's newsletter, and your colleagues are all busy, in meetings, or on vacation. You've got to edit and proof yourself. No escape.

How can you edit and proof your own work successfully?

James B. Hensen offers some advice in the July, 1996, issue of "Communications Concepts" (7481 Huntsman Blvd., Suite 720, Springfield, VA 22153).

It's always better to have someone else check your work. (Your colleagues will usually be happy to help out, because they know you'll return the favor.) But when you're forced to rely on yourself, these tips should help.

Your Appearance and Image on TV: Part I

Two important aspects when you're appearing on television are your appearance and image. Despite what you may think, there's a difference between the two.

Appearance has to do with how you physically look and come across on TV. Image has to do with the general impression you convey about yourself and your organization.

This month's article discusses your appearance on TV or video. Several strategies can help you come across in the best light.


Some tips about what you should not wear on TV:

Some advice about what you should wear:

Body Language

Another aspect of your appearance is your body language and movement.

Many people get nervous when the camera is turned in their direction. Knowing what's in store can help diffuse some of the nervousness, and there are ways to appear calm on TV even when you are nervous.

Avoid large and quick movements. Slow, deliberate gesture are best, especially when demonstrating a technique or practice. Slow movements are much easier for the viewer and camera operator to follow.

More times than not, you'll be interviewed by someone. If you concentrate on looking directly at that person and can block out the peripheral activity, you'll appear much more calm and collected.


Perhaps the best strategy for appearing on TV is to limit the amount of time you're actually on camera. The best way to do this is to supply visuals interviewers or producers can use.

Some studios have the ability to incorporate slides into interviews. They can also use videotapes. Take some time to discover if you have any resources within your organization to help you acquire these visuals.

Make sure your visuals are high quality. Amateurish and sub-par visuals look bad and will make you and your organization look bad, too.

Next month's article will target your TV image.

Grammar Trap: Active vs. Passive Voice

You've heard it a million times. "Avoid passive voice." Remember what that means?

Voice is a verb form (like tense, number, and person). There are two verb voices: active and passive.

Your verb is ACTIVE if the subject of your sentence performs the action described by the verb.

Examples: You should avoid passive voice. The car ran over the child.

Your verb is PASSIVE if the subject doesn't perform the verb's action.

Examples: Passive voice should be avoided. The child was run over.

Can you see why you should avoid passive voice and why active voice is usually a better choice?

Passive voice is--well--passive and weak. It's less direct, informative, and effective than active voice. Who should avoid passive voice? What ran over that poor kid? Who knows?

Exception: If you want to emphasize that the child is a passive victim to whom something happened rather than talk about what the car did, choose passive voice.

Helpful Hint: Think at least twice before you use passive voice. Make sure it serves your purpose.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like us to discuss or you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let us know.

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.

It is the policy of the Department of Agricultural Communication Service of Purdue University that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability. Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer. These materials may be available in alternative formats.