What is writing for the web? “17. Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise” Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (Allyn and Bacon, 1979). An example of effective web writing: Charlotte saves Wilbur with her clear, concise writing. White, E.B., Charlotte’s Web (HarperCollins, 1952).
What is writing for the web? A balance between: being clear being concise
My Eureka moment United Technology’s new ad campaign: “You don’t have to understand everything we do to profit from it.” http://www.utc.com/curious/index.html
Be the user… – INSTRUCTION DIAGRAM – Be the user… you are now on the other side of the vast array of information that most users are forced to digest. What do you need from the diagram? What is useful / not useful?
The Canterbury Tales: Prologue (translation) When April with his showers sweet with fruit The drought of March has pierced unto the root And bathed each vein with liquor that has power To generate therein and sire the flower; When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath, Quickened again, in every holt and heath, The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun Into the Ram one half his course has run, And many little birds make melody That sleep through all the night with open eye (So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)- Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage, And palmers to go seeking out strange strands, To distant shrines well known in sundry lands. And specially from every shire's end Of England they to Canterbury wend, The holy blessed martyr there to seek… http://pages.towson.edu/duncan/chaucer/duallang1.htm Wow!
The Canterbury Tales Prologue: Net version I Prologue: After cold and rainy weather, nice weather. Spring symbolizes an awakening and rebirth in ourselves and in the seasons. Spring makes English people go on pilgrimage to Thomas Becket’s grave. The grave is in Canterbury.
The Canterbury Tales Prologue: Net version II Spring: Makes everyone feel good Prompts pilgrims to go to Canterbury
Why writing for the web? Web reading ≠ print reading [more on this later] Users scan rather than read Users jump around a lot Users enter and exit unpredictably LESSON: Be clear!
Why writing for the web? Users can’t easily tell the scope of your site Lots of demands for user’s attention LESSON: Each page must be able to stand alone Things aren’t linear on the ’net. Dream: Reality:
Why writing for the web? It makes users happy. Users make snap judgments about a site’s quality. Economy of time – need to see what site’s all about before you’ll invest time navigating it LESSON: “Don’t make me think.” Don’t erect barriers to convey information. Make it easy for the users to find what they need.
Why writing for the web? Results: “We can trust you!” “You give us good information!” “We’re coming back to your site!”
Why still writing for the web? [“Didn’t we already take this a few years ago?”]
Why still writing for the web? New studies and analyses suggest we’re on the right track Still some mistakes out there Lessons that can be used for other things (e.g., newsletters and email) Lessons from other areas (especially newspapers) show the infancy of the web
Writing for “Web 2.0” Jakob Nielsen study: “F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content,” 17 April 2006 Users still scan. They’re just faster and more savvy about it. Reinforces keyword notions. LESSON: Keep writing for the web. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html
Writing for “Web 2.0” Jeffrey Veen, Keynote address, Web Design World, 30 Jan 2006. The hype has missed the basics: Desire to tailor own experience Convey information create simple tools LESSONS: 1.Make clear ≠ dumb down 2.Trust the user
Engaging the web 1.Users scan and select 2. Even on content pages, users skim, scan, and select 3.Not reading makes sense 4.Not reading is not new to the Web 5.Reading on the Web may be more difficult than on paper http://www.usability.gov/design/easycontent.html
Scanning demo Hilton Hotels website: http://www.hilton.comhttp://www.hilton.com Q: What is the purpose of this site – from the user’s perspective? A: To make a reservation
Exercise 1: Scanning Place page about 3 feet from eyes. Allow eyes to relax. What do you see? Report back. TIME: 5 MINUTES
Scanning content What areas of the page did you see at first? Did this change when you relaxed your eyes? Is the general purpose of the site obvious at this level?
Guiding Principles Our strategies for effective web writing
Guiding Principles overview Point users in the right direction Do not compromise your style when you can’t! Code of conduct Privacy notices Legal disclaimers
Guiding Principles 1.Be succinct 2.Be direct 3.Be structured You can do this when you: Eliminate wordiness Use effective titles Use active voice “Block” or “chunk” content Use bullets
Be succinct: eliminate wordiness What this really means: eliminate words Cut your words by half, and then half again Write in a clear, concise manner
Be succinct: use active voice Less overall words Easier to read More on this later [‘Be direct’]
Be succinct: make one point per paragraph Inverted pyramid – put your conclusion / main point first Helps users that don’t read in sequence Maximize information, minimize time Conclusion More info finer points etc.
Be succinct: results Reduces page length – ergo, reduces scrolling Allows users to pick out important words Easier to read We use a technique that works with the user’s method of scanning.
Be succinct: “Plain English” demo Before High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process. After Children need good schools if they are to learn properly. http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/beforeandafter.htm
Sometimes, it’s not that easy Mission statements Pamphlets Texts … all don’t scale well when migrating to the web. Use extra caution when migrating these! [They weren’t written for the web!]
Be succinct: LITA http://www.lita.org/ala/lita/aboutlita/whatlita.htm http://www.lita.org/ala/lita/aboutlita/whatlita.htm What is LITA? The Library and Information Technology Association is the leading organization reaching out across types of libraries to provide education and services for a broad membership. The membership includes new professionals, systems librarians, library administrators, library schools, vendors and anyone else interested in leading edge technology and applications for librarians and information providers. Programs are offered for everyone from absolute beginners to hi-tech professionals. Continuing education is provided through workshops, institutes, and an annual National Forum. Guidelines offering practical experience with various technologies are published regularly. The Information Technology and Libraries journal provides peer reviewed articles assuring the quality of this member benefit. Through LITA’s Web presence you will discover a variety of services addressing trends and practical applications. [118 words]
What did LITA do incorrectly? Too wordy! Passive voice Assumed users came to site through home page Didn’t rework text for the web (e.g., see last sentence)
Be succinct: LITA 1 What is LITA? LITA is the Library and Information Technology Association, a division of the American Library Association. We provide education and services to a broad group of members in all types of libraries. LITA emphasizes high-tech solutions to every member, from novice to expert. We publish guidebooks and journals, and hold an annual conference. [52 words]
Exercise 2: Be succinct Eliminate half of the words in the text. Be merciless! Extra credit: eliminate even more than half the text, while delicately balancing clarity and conciseness. TIME: 10 MINUTES
Be direct: Not reading makes sense [Does this title make any sense?] User behavior: Users seek specific bits of information and will skim to find them
Be direct: Not reading makes sense Our techniques: Use familiar key words Avoid jargon unless necessary Use active voice
Be direct: Not reading makes sense Our techniques: DON’T use keywords that the user wouldn’t use DON’T use jargon to explain things that don’t need jargon (very few things need jargon) DON’T use passive voice
Be direct: use active voice Facilitates succinct writing Easier to understand Easier to pick out keywords
Be direct: keywords and jargon Use consistent language Use consistent style and tone [more on this later] Speak the user’s language Speak with the user: use “us” and “we” Use analogy if possible (“files” and “folders”)
Be direct: speak user’s language AcquireGet ConclusionEnd DuplicateCopy ElementarySimple EvidentClear IdenticalSame Is symptomatic ofShows Library catalogFind books DatabasesFind articles Browse / keyword search Begins with / find anywhere HFI suggested list:Some library ones (John Kupersmith):
Sample paragraph: “Interlibrary Loan allows borrowers to obtain books from institutions or repositories that own these items when the patron’s home library does not.” We know better: Book not available? You can borrow it from another library and have it sent here through Interlibrary Loan! Be direct: ILL example Common problem in familiar terms Active voice Helpful jargon
Be direct: DL example Spotted on the web: The Library's Digital Collections, available via a browser, are listed below. Internet Explorer is the preferred browser for accessing these collections. New! The XYZ Digital Collections, ABC Collection, 123 Collection and the QRS Collection can be searched simultaneously using the Digital Library Cross-Collection Search. Digital Library Cross-Collection Search Collection A Collection B Collection C ” “ Too much passive voice! Huh? We know they’re below. More passive voice! Hmm, this could be handy… Finally, the point!
Be direct: DL example Digital Library Cross-Collection Search Search XYZ, ABC, 123, and QRS collections simultaneously. Looking for non-Internet collections? View our other digital collections. Collection A Collection B Collection C
Exercise 3: Be direct Get direct! Rewrite using active voice, plain language, and minimal jargon Compare your directness with others in your group Extra credit: Review Exercise 2 in light of what you learned in Exercise 3. Would you change anything? TIME: 10 MINUTES
I can study there! I can get my books there! I never go there – I just go to their website. Dude, that’s Butler!
Be structured Brings ultimate clarity to your pages. Allows users to internalize your document in a variety of ways. (This is a good thing.) Web 2.0: structured content can go other places. Easier to see what’s applicable.
Be structured: title your sections Users scan. Give them something to scan. Titles = effective way to convey what document is all about “Drop in” – who / what / why The inverted pyramid helps Goal: quickly understand text
Be structured: “chunk” content Limit paragraphs to a few sentences. Big blocks of text are scary Small blocks of text are manageable “One point per paragraph” helps Add links where appropriate Goal: break text into manageable pieces
Be structured: use bullets Use bullets frequently – but don’t go bullet-crazy! Use consistent structure and tone Don’t make complicated sub-lists Complicated sub-lists begin a point then bring you to text that nobody will read Goal: sum up / complement text effectively
Be structured: LITA 2 What would additional goals be? How would we achieve them?
Be structured: LITA 2 We are LITA, the Library and Information Technology Association, a division of the American Library Association. Become a member! Our members come from all library areas: New professionals Systems librarians Administrators Library schools Vendors … and more! LITA’s many activities include: Professional development programs and continuing education Workshops and institutes Guidebooks and manuals A National Forum each year Information Technology and Libraries peer-reviewed journal
Be structured: Demo #1 http://www.pima.edu/business/solutions/
Exercise 4: Be structured Find exercise 3 Turn your block of text into a user-friendly web page Remember to use the inverted pyramid, effective titles, chunked content, and bulleted lists Compare with others in your group TIME: 10 MINUTES
Design caveats: simple Left-justify / “rag right” for left-to-right text No italics NO ALL CAPS Always pro fread! o ^
Design caveats: more complex Try to group page into natural schemes or categories By intended audience By function By subject
Interesting aside: newspapers Newspapers use really effective techniques to make us read them easily These techniques have evolved over time The Net is still changing / evolving best practices What will we see in the future? What remains: prose, style, effective writing
Conclusions What did you learn? Did you already know this? Other interesting asides?
Questions Joanna DiPasquale Web Design / Development Libraries Digital Program Division Butler Library, Columbia University 212-854-8758 firstname.lastname@example.org
Be succinct! Be direct! Be structured! Enjoy your day!