Contents

Foreword xv

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Content! Content! Content! 1

People come to web sites for the content 1

Web users skim and scan 2

What makes writing for the web work well? 4

Good web writing is like a conversation 4

Good web writing answers people's questions 5

Good web writing lets people "grab and go" 5

Introducing Letting Go of the Words 6

It's about writing and design, not technology 6

It's full of examples 7

It's based in a user-centered design process 7

You can start the process in several places 7

You can jump around in the book 8

You can join our web community 8

2 People! People! People! 11

We all interpret as we read 11

Successful writers focus on their audiences 12

Seven steps to understanding your audiences 12

1. List your major audiences 12

2. Gather information about your audiences 13

3. List major characteristics for each audience 14 Key phrases or quotes 15 Experience, expertise 15 Emotions 16 Values 17 Technology 17 Social and cultural environments 18 Demographics 18

4. Gather your audiences' questions, tasks, and stories 19

5. Use your information to create personas 19 What information goes into a persona? 20 How do personas work with a web team? 22

6. Include the persona's goals and tasks 24

7. Use your information to write scenarios for your site 24

Scenarios tell you the conversations people want to start 25

Scenarios help you understand all types of users 26

Everything on your web site should fulfill a scenario 27

Scenarios can help you write good web content 27

3 Starting Well: Home Pages 29

Home pages - the 10-minute mini-tour 30

Identifying the site, establishing the brand 31

Setting the tone and personality of the site 31

Helping people get a sense of what the site is all about 35

A useful home page makes it instantly clear what the site is about 36

A useful home page is mostly links and short descriptions 37

Letting people start key tasks immediately 41

Put forms people want right away on the home page 41

Make sure the forms are high on the page 41

Put Search near the top - where site visitors expect it 43

Don't make people fill out forms they don't want 44

Sending each person on the right way, effectively and efficiently 44

Use your site visitors' words 45

Don't make people wonder which link to click on 45

Putting it all together: A case study 46 Building your site up from the content - not only down from the home page 50

4 Getting There: Pathway Pages 53

Most site visitors are on a hunt - a mission - and the pathway is just to get them there 54

People don't want to read a lot while hunting 54

A pathway page is like a table of contents 58

Sometimes, short descriptions help 59

Marketing is likely to be ignored on a pathway page 61 The smoothness of the path is more important than the number of clicks (within reason) 63

Don't make people think 65

Keep people from needing the Back button 65

Many people choose the first option that looks plausible 66

Many site visitors are landing inside your site 66

5 Writing Information, Not Documents 69

Breaking up large documents 69

Think "topic," not "book" 70

Break web content into topics and subtopics 73

Deciding how much to put on one web page 80 How much do people want in one visit? How connected is the information? 81

Am I overloading my site visitors? How long is the web page? 83

What's the download time? 84

Will people want to print? How much will they want to print? 84

Should you rely on PDF files for your web content? 85

When might a PDF file be appropriate? 86

When is a PDF file not appropriate? 86

When accessibility is an issue 89

Three more reasons for not using PDFs 89

In some cases, offer both versions 90

6 Focusing on Your Essential Messages 93

Six guidelines for focusing on your essential messages 94

1. Give people only what they need 94

3. Start with the key point. Write in inverted pyramid style 102

4. Break down walls of words 107

5. Market by giving useful information 110 All sites sell - products or themselves 111 The web is primarily a "pull" technology; marketing specializes in "push" 112

Take advantage of "marketing moments" - market after the visitor is at least partially satisfied 112

6. Layer information to help web users 114 Layering from a brief description to the full article 114 Layering from an information page to more on other web pages 114 Layering from part of the page to a short explanation 116 Layering in innovative ways 118

7 Designing Your Web Pages for Easy Use 127

Fourteen guidelines for helpful design 128

1. Make the page elements obvious, using patterns and alignment 129

2. Consider the entire site when planning the design 131 An e-commerce example 132 An information site example 134 Plan a consistent design across the web site 134 Understand the process that moves from plan to launch 135 Integrate content and design from the beginning 136

3. Work with templates 137

4. Use space effectively. Keep active space in your content 137 Understand passive space and active space 138 For your web content, focus on active space 139

5. Beware of false bottoms 140

6. Don't let headings float 141

7. Don't center text 143

8. Set a sans serif font as the default 144 The old research on paper 145 The new research on the web - no winner for reading speed or comprehension, but people prefer sans serif 145

Choose an easy-to-read sans serif 146

9. Think broadly about users and their situations when setting type size 146 Set the default large enough for your site visitors 147 Adjust your content so that you can use large enough type and get your message into the space you have 148

Let people choose their own text size 148

Make all the text adjust, not just the main content area 149

10. Use a fluid layout with a medium line length as default 149

11. Don't write in all capitals 150

12. Don't underline anything but links. Use italics sparingly 151

13. Provide good contrast between text and background 152 Keep the background clear so that the text is readable 152 Keep the background light and the text dark 152 Use light text on a dark background sparingly 154

14. Think about all your site visitors when you choose colors 155 Think about the cultural meaning of colors 155 Check your colors to avoid problems for color-blind users 156

Putting it all together: A case study 156

Interlude: The New Life of Press

Releases 163

The old - and ongoing - life of a press release 163

What has changed? 163

How do people use press releases on the web? 164

Story 1: Press release as summary 164

Story 2: Press release as fact sheet 165

Story 3: Press release as basic information 165

Story 4: The press call up 165

What should we do? 166

Does it make a difference? 166

What would the difference look like? 168

8 Tuning Up Your Sentences 171

Ten guidelines for tuning up your sentences 172

1. Talk to your site visitors. Use "you" 172 Be consistent; don't mix nouns and "you" when talking about the same person 173

Use appropriate nouns to talk about others 173

Use the imperative in instructions 175

Use "you" rather than "he or she" 175

2. Show that you are a person and that your organization includes people 177

If you are blogging, "I" is fine 177

If you are writing your own articles, "I" is fine 178

If you are writing for an organization, use "we" 178

Sometimes, it's okay to talk about the organization by name 180 For questions and answers, use "I" and "you" for the site visitor,

"we" for the organization 180

3. Write in the active voice (most of the time) 181

4. Write simple, short, straightforward sentences 185 Very short sentences are okay, too 185 Fragments may also work 185 Even in very serious writing, busy web users need sentences they can understand easily 185

5. Cut unnecessary words 187

6. Give extra information its own place 188

7. Keep paragraphs short 191 On the web, a one-sentence paragraph is fine 191 Lists and tables may be better than paragraphs 192

8. Start with the context - first things first, second things second 192

9. Put the action in the verbs, not the nouns 194

10. Use your web users' words 195 We all read the simple, short, common words faster 198 Consider your broad web audience 198

Putting it all together 199

9 Using Lists and Tables 205

Nine guidelines for writing useful web lists 205

Six guidelines for creating useful web tables 206

1. Use lists to make information easy to grab 206

2. Keep most lists short 207 Short (5-10 items) is necessary for unfamiliar lists 208 Long may be okay for very familiar lists 208

3. Format lists to make them work well 209 Eliminate the space between the introduction and the list 210 Put a space between long items 210 Wrap lines under each other, not under the bullet 211

4. Match bullets to your site's personality 212 Work with colleagues to establish the personality to use for bullets 214 Don't make people wonder if the bullets have more meaning than they do 215

5. Use numbered lists for instructions 216

6. Turn paragraphs into steps 218

7. Give even complex instructions as steps 222

8. Keep the sentence structure in lists parallel 223

9. Don't number list items if they are not steps and people might confuse them with steps 224

Contrasting lists and tables 226

10. Use tables when you have numbers to compare 226

11. Use tables for a series of "if, then" sentences 227

12. Think about tables as answers to questions 228

13. Think carefully about what to put in the left column of a table 229

14. Keep tables simple 230 Thinking about table width 230 Thinking about table length 231

15. Format tables on the web so that people focus on the information and not on the lines 231 Don't put thick lines between the columns or between the rows in a table 231

Don't center text in a table 233

10 Breaking Up Your Text with Headings 235

Good headings help readers in many ways 235

Thinking about headings also helps writers 236

Don't just slap headings into old content 238

Twelve guidelines for writing useful headings 238

1. Start by outlining your content with headings 239

2. Ask questions as headings when people come with questions 240 Make them the questions people come with 242 Think conversation. Ask the question from the site visitor's point of view 245

Keep the questions short 245

Consider starting with a key word for fast access and accessibility 247

3. Give statement headings to convey key messages 247

4. Use action phrase headings for instructions 249

5. Use noun and noun phrase headings sparingly 250

6. Put your site visitors' words in the headings 255

7. Exploit the power of parallelism 255

8. Don't dive deep; keep to no more than two levels of headings

(below the page title) 256

9. Make the heading levels obvious 257

10. Distinguish headings from text with type size and bold or color 257

11. Help people jump to the topic they need with same-page links 258 Put same-page links right under the page title 258 Don't put off-page links where people expect same-page links 258 Don't put same-page links in the left navigation column 259 Link headings as you move from paper to web 260

12. Evaluate! Read the headings to see what you have done 260

Interlude: Legal Information Can Be

Understandable, Too 263

Make the information legible 263

Make sure your legal information prints well 264

Use site visitors' words in your headings 264

Avoid technical language 265

Avoid archaic legal language 266

Apply all the clear writing techniques to your legal information 268

11 Using Illustrations Effectively 273

Illustrations serve different purposes 273

Picture of exact item 274

Picture to illustrate concept or process 280

Chart, graph, map 284

Mood picture 287

Nine general guidelines for using illustrations effectively 290

1. Don't make people wonder what or why 290

2. Choose an appropriate size 291 Make sure small pictures are clear 291 Don't use so much space for pictures that critical content gets shoved down or aside 292

3. Use illustrations to support, not hide, content 292

4. In pictures of people, show diversity 294 To represent your organization, show diversity, but be truthful 294 To represent your site visitors, think broadly 295 Test, test, test 295

5. Don't make content look like ads 296

6. Don't annoy people with blinking, rolling, waving, or wandering text or pictures 296

Don't let text roll 297

Don't change content while people are on the page 298 Don't let animated animals, birds, butterflies, and so on, roam the page 299

Weigh the trade-offs for animation carefully 299

7. Use animation where it helps - not just for show 299

8. Don't make people wait through splash or Flash 300 Splash pages waste people's time 301 You wear out your welcome by welcoming people too much 302 People want to control their online experiences 302 Videos at the beginning are roadblocks for some people 302

9. Make illustrations accessible 304 Make the alt text meaningful 304 For purely decorative graphics, use empty alt text 305

12 Writing Meaningful Links 307

Twelve guidelines for writing meaningful links 308

1. Don't make new program and product names into links by themselves 308

2. Rethink document titles and headings that turn into links 310

3. Think ahead. Match links and page titles 312

4. Be as explicit as you can in the space you have - and make more space if you need it 314

5. Use action phrases for action links 315

6. Use single nouns sparingly; longer, more descriptive links often work better 316

7. Add a short description if people need it - or rewrite the link 317

8. Make the link meaningful - not Click here, not just More 318

Click here is never necessary 318

More isn't enough 320

9. Coordinate when you have multiple, similar links 322

10. Don't embed links if you want people to stay with your information 323 If people are just browsing, embedding may be okay 323 But if you don't want people to wander off in the middle, put links at the end, below, or next to your main text 324

11. If you use bullets with links, make them active, too 326

12. Make both unvisited and visited links obvious 326 Use your unvisited link color only for links 326 Show visited links by changing the color 327

13 Getting from Draft to Final Web Pages 329

Think of writing as revising drafts 330

Review and edit your own work 330

Read what you wrote 330

Check your links 331

Check your facts 331

Put your web draft away; don't post it yet 332

Read it out loud 333

Use dictionaries, handbooks, and a style guide 333

Run the spell checker but don't rely on it 334

Ask colleagues and others to read and comment 335

Ask a few people what your key message is 335

Have someone else read it out loud to you 335

Share partial drafts 336

Get feedback online 336

Pay attention to the feedback 337

Work with colleagues to get a uniform style and tone 337

Put your ego in the drawer - cheerfully 337

Work with a writing specialist or editor 338

Have someone focus on the big picture with you 338

Have someone copy edit for you 339

Make reviews work for you and your web site visitors 339

Setting up good reviews 340

Getting useful information from reviewers 341

Making good use of reviews 342

Interlude: Creating an Organic Style Guide 345

Use a style guide to keep the site consistent 345

Don't reinvent 347

Appoint an owner 348

Make it easy to create, to find, and to use 348

Bibliography 349

Subject Index 353

Index of Web Sites Shown as Examples 363

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