Writing for the Web Information Technology Mini Workshop
Basic rules of Web survival If you were asked to concisely say what a Web site should be, what would you say? Though it can be many things to many people, a Web site should be: • easy to find • simple to navigate • easy to read • quick to download • Consistent • informative. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Why Worry? Write for a reason and know why you write: figure out exactly what you are trying to accomplish with your words and achieve that goal in the most effective way possible • Purpose of a Web page • Provide Information • Provide a Service • Provide Entertainment
Why Use a Particular Writing Style? • Main Goal • To aid users in finding useful information • To allow information to be located quickly • Differences of Writing for the Web vs. for Print • Do not typically read from start to finish on PC • Web information tends to be more clipped style of writing • Tip: Write consistently and keep info updated by reviewing your web site and updating content often.
Who’s your Audience? • Purpose for creating a web page is to have the readers read the information provided • If you don’t write for the reader, the reader won’t read!
How Users Read on the Web • Readers focus attention on center of window where they read body text before looking over headerbars or other navigational elements • Usability • Scan text • Concise text • Objective information • Credibility
Why People Scan • Reading from a computer screen is tiring for the eyes and about 25% slower than reading from paper • Web is a user-driven medium where users feel that they have to move on and click on things. • Each page has to compete with hundreds of millions of other pages for the user’s attention. Users are not willing to commit the investment of reading pages in hope that it will be good. Most pages are in fact not worth the user’s time so users move between many pages and try to pick the most tasty segments of each. • Modern life is hectic and people simply don’t have time to work too hard for their information
Conventional Guidelines • Carefully organize the information • Use words and categories that make sense to the audience • Use topic sentences-often only the first sentence is read • Limit each paragraph to one main idea • Provide the right amount of information • Make proper use of links
Findings • Simple and informal writing are preferred • Use down-to-earth language so that just anybody could read it and understand • Users prefer informal or conversational writing better than formal writing • Informal writing reads faster • Not every word must be read for understanding to take place • Sounds like normal speech patterns, not too elementary, not too rehtorical
Add’l Findings • Credibility an Important Issue • Who the site publisher is • Who the sources of information in the site are • Provide a cohesive site to aid in adding credibility to the site • Humor should be used with caution • Know your audience • More than likely the site’s users are diverse enough that offense can easily be taken
Improving Web writing style will result in: • Better use of user’s task time: number of second to find answers • Fewer error rates: number of incorrect answers from info provided • Better memorability: recognition and recall • Improved site structure • Improved subjective satisfaction • Quality—accurate, helpful, useful • Ease of use—to find specific info, to concentrate on searching for info • Likability—entertaining, interesting, likable, engaging, fun to use, boring • User affect—how tiring, confusing, frustrating
How to Improve Web Writing • Scanning Ability Elements—calls attention to key info • Headings • Page heading plus subheads and sub-subheads when appropriate • Meaningful rather than “cute” headings help summarize the copy • Larger Font size • Bold or Italicized text
How to Improve Web Writing - Scanning • Highlighted Text • Don’t over use, it loses its effectiveness • Don’t highlight unless significant info • Don’t highlight overly long phrases. Scanning eye can only pick up 2-3 words in a glance. • Graphics • Captions • Topic Sentences • Table of Contents
How to Improve Web Writing - Scanning • Bulleted Lists • Lists slow down the scanning eye and draw attention to important points • Numbering lists suggest order of importance. Number a list only if the order of entries is important. • Limit the number of items in a list to not more than nine. Readers can hold between 5 and 9 items in their mind at one time. • Don’t require users to click through level after level of lists. Below the second level, info should be available. • Alphabetizing a list helps the reader find the topic (if the list terminology is familiar.
How to Improve Web Writing • Concise Text • Free from all elaboration and superfluous detail • Optimum viewing will provide info on one screen • Get more to the point-less info to process, less chance of cognitive overload • Write no more than 50% of the text you would normally have used in a hardcopy publication • Copy should answer the reader’s info (amt of detail desire/required) and emotional needs (e.g., does the reader need reassurance, hand-holding, etc.?) • Use short paragraphs (7 lines or less) and frequent subheads Warning: beware of fragmenting or over-dividing your information
How to Improve Web Writing • Use Objective Content • Remove marketese – adjectives, buzzwords, claims not supported with evidence • Find reasonable balance • Use Summaries
How to Improve Web Writing • Inverted Pyramids (Journalist Approach) • Start with the conclusion • Follow with the most important supporting information • End by giving the background. (Useful for newspapers because readers can stop at any time and will still get the most important parts of the article.) • Reasons for using inverted pyramids • Users don’t like to scroll, therefore read only the top part • Only very interested readers will want to scroll
How to Improve Web Writing • Use Links • Proper use • Give users some understanding of where they can go • Give users some understanding of why the arrival page is of relevance to them • Beware of providing distractions from using too many links • Allows web writers to split their writing into smaller, coherent pieces, to avoid long scrolling pages Remember though, users can enter a site at any page. Every page you write should stand alone, without reference to a previous page.
How to Improve Web Writing • Graphics • Graphics and text should complement each other • Beware of distracting graphics • Beware of useless graphics that waste downloading time • Caption illustrations except when the context is so clear that a caption would be redundant
How to deal with longer copy, more text • Use bookmarks on your page • Place a list of links at the top of the page that will take the reader to places lower on the page • Use the inverted pyramid structure
Organization & Formatting • The way your organize the information you include in your pages helps provide context and meaning • Leave white space between paragraphs to enhance readability
Design Worries • Backgrounds • Font Color • Animations • Usability (the user’s ability to get what he/she wants from the site as quickly and as easily as possible) should never be sacrificed for the design Tip:unless the design is the point of your site, select colors and visual elements that support without dominating.
Review • The topic, its main idea, and its conclusion should be immediately visible, locatable, or knowable • Ideas rule structure; main ideas at the “top” of the screen, with supporting and secondary information below • Structure of the content and the website should be readily recognizable to your visitor • Simple constructions are best; limit one idea to a group of words, whether sentence, phrase, paragraph • Avoid technical terminology unless you clearly and intentionally have its purpose in mind and definition available • Data, detail, and complexity are subjects for subsequent pages and should be logically placed
Review cont’d • Each subsequent page’s content should be apparent by its link, and consistent with its predecessor • Detailed information can be accessed through links for printing • Edit out the superfluous no matter how clever if it detracts from your message • Spell check then have your pages independently proof-read • Always focus on your message. Invite feedback
Final Note Because it is so easy to make changes to existing content, there is this attitude of, “we can always fix this later.” Unfortunately web pages make it easy to let things slide because there really is never a final draft. http://www5.semo.edu/evans/Training/mistakes.htm
Resources of Information • Stamats Communication, Inc. • http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html • http://www.useit.com/alertbox/whyscanning.html • http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9606.html • http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/writing.html • http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/rewriting.html • http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html • http://www.iss.stthomas.edu/studyguides/writing_content.htm • http://www.dartmouth.edu/~webteach/articles/text.html • http://hotwired.lycos.com/webmonkey/99/32/index0a.html • http://www.alistapart.com/stories/writeliving/
Checklist • Scannable text • Lists used • Highlighted text • Concise text • Short Paragraphs-one main idea • Proper use of headers/subheaders/sub-subheaders • Correct amount of information provided • Objective/Credible • Inverted pyramid • Organization/categorization • Proper • use of links • graphic use • Formatting • Spell checked
Exercise: Standard Questions for your Site’s Written Content • Review your site and then have someone else review it • Answer the following questions regarding your site • What is the primary purpose of the site? • Who is your audience? • How would you describe the site’s style of writing? • How do you like the way it is written? • How could the writing in this website be improved? • How easy is it to use the website? Why? • Do you have any advice for the writer or designer? • Think back to another web site you have visited and liked. Which site did you like better? Why?