Good writing is the exception rather than the rule on the Web. One reason is simply that it's hard to write well. Another is that many of the people who've been involved with the Web from the beginning have been slow to realize that writing is a very big part of what the online experience is about. While the Web has important non-textual uses, such as listening to audio files, watching video files, and downloading software and music, most people who use it spend an overwhelming amount of their online time reading words on a page. It's not an accident that we call them webpages. Nor is it an accident that the language used to create webpages is called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).
Following on from this logic, we call the person who comes to a website a reader. That doesn't mean they can't do other things on a website, such as purchase a product, download software, or listen to audio. It merely recognizes that the primary activity for the vast majority of people when they access the Web is reading. We also call a website a publication because, when you think about it, that's what a website is. A website publishes content targeted at a group of readers. "Reader" is a much warmer and more explanatory word than the generic "user." (Two things websites and illegal drugs have in common: they share the words "user" and "traffic.")
Writing, in fact, is arguably the most important link in the chain of devices, technologies, software, and interfaces that propels ideas across the Webmore important than the kinds of computer, operating system, browser software, or Internet connection method used. Writing is also the least understood link in that chain, and the one least likely to improve with technology.
Because the Web is accessed through a computer, many organizations assume it is something technical. What they fail to realize is that the Web is in fact a publishing medium, just like print. These organizations have put in place the technical infrastructure to publish webpages, but have rarely bothered to create the kind of editorial infrastructure that a publisher must have. One reason for this is that the people in charge of websiteswebmasters, chief technology officers, chief information officerstend to have quantitative backgrounds; they're more familiar with HTML and programming than with grammar and composition.
In addition to quality content, the design of websites must facilitate finding and reading that content. Web design is about laying out content so that it can be easily read. It's about organizing content so that it can be easily navigated and searched. For the vast majority of websites, design should not be about elaborate graphics and visual effects. The number one design principle for the Web is simplicity. Quality web design should be all about making life easier for the reader to find content, and then making it easy for them to read that content.
As quality content becomes ever more critical in differentiating successful websites from others, the need for quality control will grow. Two things that the Web needs in generaland which every website needs in particularare standards and rules.
While there will never be the kind of hard and fast rules about web publishing that there are about, say, web software, general standards are in fact emerging. The number of websites that are badly written, badly edited, and badly designed remains vast, but if you look at the successful, high-volume websites, you see professional editing and standard design.
About The Web Content Style GuideThis book aims to codify the rules and standards that make for effective web writing. It also aims to give non-technical guidance to all those involved in designing and running a website, from the chief executive officer to the junior writer. Its easy-to-access A to Z format makes it an ideal reference guide for all those involved in web publishing.Many excellent style guides exist in the offline world. Three of the best known are the University of Chicago Press's Manual of Style, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, and the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Grammar and style issues are only one aspect of The Web Content Style Guide, and it focuses on those points particularly relevant to the Web as well as some of the more common pitfalls in grammar and usage. In this way, The Web Content Style Guide is a companion guide rather than an alternative to the established offline guides.
Some of the web grammar and style issues you will find here include
- the key differences between American and British English
- how the Web accentuates plagiarism
- the use of italics
- what sort of dash looks best on the screen
- and when and how to date documents
In the area of design and layout, The Web Content Style Guide examines topics from accessibility to animation, from fonts to forms, from information architecture to intranet, from navigation to newsgroup, and from search to style guides.
Every entry is written from the perspective that a website must get the right content to the reader as quickly as possible, in the most readable manner. The FONTS entry, for example, discusses the font sizes and types that work best on screen.
The book is organized into three sections:
- the Introduction, including an overview on writing and designing for the Web
- the A to Z index
- supplementary material comprising a sample style guide, a list of further reading/online resources, and a quick-find index
If you're involved in managing, designing, editing, or writing for a website, The Web Content Style Guide is essential for you. It is packed with examples, and is written in a clear, concise, and friendly manner. Based on the authors' 40-plus collective years of experience in traditional publishing, and 15 in designing content-rich websites, it is always practical. It champions best practices in web content writing, layout, and design, and is not afraid to kill off a few Internet myths along the way.