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Writing for the Web

From: <aardit@voa.gov>
Date: Fri, 30 May 2003 16:03:56 -0400
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <PI-IIS02cMzfoV1qdii000001c3@www.poynter.org>


Re checkpoint 3.3 [1], formerly 4.1 ... This column about clear writing
for the Web is from the Poynter Institute, "a school dedicated to
teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders," in Florida. --
Avi [1] http://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/WCAG20/#content-complexity 

Posted, May 27, 2003
Writing for the Web

By Joe Marren (more by author) 


Today's web producers and writers may not have heard of Roy Rogers, the
cowboy hero to their baby boomer pa'rdners, but the modern generation
may identify with one of his songs. (Slightly altered here to make a

"Oh, give me white space, lots of white space
Under an editor's smile from above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me write through the wide open
Sites that I love,
Don't fence me in."

Roy Peter Clark <http://www.poynter.org/profile/profile.asp?user=1711> ,
writing savant extraordinaire at The Poynter Institute, and a musician
in his own right, once wrote that anything can be written in 800 words
or less.

How do these two ideas tie together for practical journalists writing
for the web? Well, let me get slightly verbose.


Related Article: 
The Craft of Online Editing
by Joe Marren

Related Columns: 
 Web Tips <http://www.poynter.org/templates/column_a/default.asp?id=32>

 E-Media Tidbits <http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31> 

Related Materials:
 Online Section <http://www.poynter.org/subject.asp?id=26> 
• Online Tip Sheets
• Online Bibliography
 Online Seminars <http://www.poynter.org/seminar/search.asp?sid=26> 

Know your audience

Bells and whistles impress techies, but readers want sites that are
informative and easy to navigate. In other words, we want to write long,
but our readers want to read short.

Jakob Nielsen, a web usability researcher and engineer, has done study
after study saying web readers don't read. They scan. Not only that, but
they scan when they should be working, so they're in a hurry to get news
nuggets before the boss comes around the cubicle. Our hypothetical
scanners with the suspicious bosses will only give a story a few seconds
to get and hold their attention. So online stories should:

*	Have informative subheads.
*	Use bold type on proper nouns or important points.
*	Use bulleted lists.
*	Keep paragraphs short (one idea).
*	Have pictures or graphics. Remember the broadcast maxim: "See
cow, don't say cow."

The form it takes

That means web stories should be cookie-cutter bland and formulaic,
right? Hardly. They can be as creative as time and the boss will allow,
but how we write and how we work a story are different. It's not our
grandparents' news anymore.

Write to add depth. Layers can use text to explain why the story matters
(as a print story would), allow the audience to hear or see human drama
(like broadcast stories), and engage readers interactively.

Here's a synopsis, without examples: (For examples, go to
<http://www.cyberjournalist.net/storyforms.htm> )

*	Clickable interactive: graphics or other elements that add to
the depth of a story.
*	Slideshows (with or without audio): photos with cutlines for
strong visual stories.
*	Surveys: questions and answers on a topic.

Suggestion 1: Make it tight and bright!

*	Don't write a mystery novel. Tell the readers the ending right
away. ("She cut her hair to earn money to buy him a watch; he sold his
watch to buy her some brushes.")
*	Use subject-verb-object sentences. ("You didn't!" they both
*	Use active voice and action verbs to express connotation and
denotation. ("What a strange Christmas this has been," they said.)
*	Avoid overusing adjectives and adverbs. ("Stop this!" O. Henry

Suggestion 2: Explain

Readers want to know not only who, what, when, and where, but also why
the story is important. Why are city taxes going up? What will it mean
to essential services? Use links to help amplify without adding words.

Don't bury the lede and don't pile on when updating. With each update,
be sure the story is complete and cut out the superfluous text from
previous versions.

Suggestion 3: Banish gray

Long gray or black blocks of type are deadly. Think: Can the info be
better presented in a graph, chart, or table? Can the sentences and
grafs be shorter? Punchier?

Readers want their info NOW. So web writing should be scannable and

*	Scannability: Highlight key words or phrases to make a point.
Briefly repeat such info from time to time in new ways. 
*	Splitability: Break some info off into links that are also in
inverted pyramid style so that there is what Nielsen calls "a set of
pyramids floating in cyberspace."

Suggestion 4: Link, link, link!

Since the hed will likely be the first line of a link, make sure it is
straightforward and succinct. Let readers know what they're getting for
their click.

We want to write long, but our readers want to read short.Don't be
afraid to link deep within a site instead of just to top pages. No
reader wants to go to the top page and then search. Also, check and see
if a site is available; don't trust someone's word that it is or will

And if you link to a specific geographic location, hyperlink to a map to
show readers where it is.

Consider using internal links for navigational ease.

That was 764 words. Both Roys –- Rogers and Clark -– would be pleased. 

[ What is your advice to someone writing for the web?
78>  ] 

Joe Marren is an assistant professor in the communication department at
Buffalo State College. He can be reached at marrenjj@buffalostate.edu


Received on Friday, 30 May 2003 16:07:39 UTC

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