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Writing for the Wired World

Skolen på internettet, Nyborg


April 24, 2003


Darlene Fichter

University of Saskatchewan

library.usask.ca/~fichter/


Overview


Writing & Reading for the Web


D
o’s & Don’ts


Format


Scanning


Style


Language


Jargon

Reading & Writing


Goal is to communicate


Strategy


Key messages


Your audience

School Web Site Audience


Focused on getting the job
done


Diverse



Experience


Novice to expert


Usage patterns


Occasional to daily


Tasks & domain knowledge


Teachers & staff


Parents


Students



How Users Read on Screens



Top to bottom


Left to right


Focus first on


the micro
-
content


Scroll to the bottom


Only after failing

-

side menu

-

top menu



How do people read on the screen?



People Read:


25% slower on the screen


Find Arial or Times Roman fonts at 12
pt the most legible

Research Shows: DON’T Read


People who are looking for information
don't READ, they
scan
.


If they have to read a help page, most
won’t.


Readers understand
more

when
reading
less
.

“Scanability”


Create headings and subheadings


Be consistent


use
font

and/or
color

to emphasize
headings



Reading Slower:

Implications for Style


Be succinct


Pyramid style (newspaper)


Scanning


lists, lists and more lists


5 Tips

1.
Strike out useless words.


Adjectives and superlatives

2.
Avoid noun sandwiches.


Targeted budget planning committee proposal

3.
Use “you.”

4.
Cut out redundancies.

5.
Use simple, short words.



Long Form

Short Form


concerning


about


forward


send


in order to


to


facilitate


help


strategy


plan


access (as a verb)


get, assist


assistance


help, aid


construct


build


in the event of


if

Pyramid Style


Write like a newspaper article


Start with the conclusion


Have a good headline

Rule of Thumb: 50%



½ the word count

of conventional
writing


Headings & Subheadings


Rule of Thumb


Emphasis


“rule of thumb” one at a
time. Bold or size.


Eyes are tuned to small differences.


No need to SHOUT at users.


Punch Up Headlines


Make every heading word meaningful


Make sure the 1
st

headline or title on
page summarizes the content


Separate sections with 2
nd

level
headings


3 levels on one page is about all the
reader can grasp

Use Lists


Use lists or tables


Use bullets when sequence doesn’t
matter, and use numbers when it does


Lists speed up scanning but slow down
reading


Use lists when you have key concepts,
not full sentences

Which is easiest to read?
Research says…


Anatomy


Biology


Biotechnology


Chemistry


Microbiology


Physics


Zoology

Anatomy

Biology

Biotechnology

Chemistry

Microbiology

Physics

Zoology

Anatomy
Biology
Biotechnology
Chemistry
Microbiology
Physics
Zoology

1. White space 2. Bullets & white 3. No space


space & no bullets

Which is faster? Why?

Books

Art

Journals

Biology

Mathematics

Newspapers

Subjects


Types

Art Books

Biology


Journals

Mathematics Newspapers

1

2

Art

Biology

Mathematics

Books


Journals

Newspapers

3

Organizing Content for
Viewing


In columns, not rows


Categorical, not alphabetical



Subjects


Type


Art Books


Biology Journals


History


Maps


Mathematics Newspapers

Scan for Links


Make the links in your text meaningful.


Make
visited

and
unvisited
links contrast
with the base font color.

Example of Scanning

Staff Directory Search

1.
Search by
last name
.

2.
Browse staff by
school
.

3.
List all by classes taught,
click here
.

Scanning a Home Page

Hypertext: Classic Mistakes


Overused


everything is a link.


Used for key concepts instead of lists or
headings based on the belief.


Often the link is referenced itself
interrupting the reader’s thoughts. To
start the tour, click here.

Use Links Wisely


Hypertext is
powerful

but
can

also
be

distracting


Links can help reduce clutter by moving
information to separate Web pages


But when concentrating on content,
people often ignore embedded links


TIP: Don’t use embedded links for
important navigational choices.

Create Links That Don’t

Need To Be Followed


Use long descriptive links, captions, or
headings so users can eliminate choices


UIE’s research shows that
links with 4
to 9 words are more effective

Tour


5 sites


Jot down notes / opinions about the ability
to scan and find words quickly


Which sites work best? Why?


Which sites don’t work as well? Why?

1. Woodmoor Elementary

2.
North Beach Elementary School


3. University Library

4. Ysgol Llandrillo
-
yn
-
Rhos

Which Site Worked Best?

1

4

3

2

Language


Use the language of your users


Ambiguity is a problem


Provide context

Classic Mistakes on School &
Library Sites


School sites are full of jargon.




SATS


Curriculum


WinSPIRS


EbscoHost


Access


Diary


Prospectus


Gateway


Services


Grassroots

Example

Labels are Challenging


Testing helps


Use a “cookie test”


Create a list of possible labels:


Staff


Teachers


Instructors


Classroom Teachers

Go Where Your Users Are


Your lunch room or hallways for
students


Aim for cross
-
section


Ask which they prefer



Different Approach: Take a few concepts and ask them
what they would call the item or group of items?

Other Important Writing Tasks


Errors


Should stand out from other text


Should be comprehensible

404 not found ?

Errors


Make Them Visible

Things to Avoid


““Marketese”


Anything that sounds like “advertising” is a
complete turn off … the best, the biggest



Be objective and factual.

Secret to Good Wired Writing


Write often


Revise, revise and revise


Recognize good writing and copy the
style


Read the usability studies and research
reports

Good News for Teachers &
Librarians


Some of it comes naturally


Work with words


Think about how to communicate
information all the time


Competent at organizing information for
learning in the classroom or in a library


Service oriented

Books, Columns & Reference
Sites


Writing
http://library.usask.ca/~fichter/writing/

Thank you!


Questions?



Darlene Fichter


University of Saskatchewan Libraries

library.usask.ca/~fichter/