<%response.buffer=true%> <% yere = year(date()) Response.Expires = 0 %> Intro: Writing For The Web

Print Vs. Web

"Every sentence, every phrase, every word has to fight for its life." Crawford Kilian, Writing for the Web

Print Conveys Authority, Web Conveys Immediacy: Until recently, printing has been done by corporations and publishers. To put something in print, the content is edited for accuracy, grammatical errors and legal issues. This much effort spent on a document designed for print lends a sense of authority.

When a document is created on the web, there are no funds spent printing the document. The data can be be 'published' by anyone who can handle an HTML editor. The document can disappear overnight, and frequently does so when a legal issue is involved. However, a document on the web can be revised, and updated frequently, making the web the medium of choice for subjects needing immediacy.

Below are several scenarios involving printed and web documents, and some comments:

Issue Print Web
Accuracy, Authority Legal and cost issues provide a sense of accuracy and authority to the printed document Authorship and authority are in question, since anyone can publish to the web

Time and cost prevent many documents from being timely

Periodicals and news media are the exception

Timeliness is the web's greatest strength.

Not only can things cheaply and immediately go 'to print', but they can be changed in 'real time'


Printed documents can be highlighted, and annotated by the owner of the document, making them easier to study

Indexes can provide for faster access to data in a long document

Web documents are difficult to annotate or highlight

Searching documents can return quick results, but longer documents don't allow the user to 'scan' multiple pages visually

  • Data may be harder to acquire
  • Data may be more reliable
  • Many items not available in any other media
  • Results more immediately available
  • Data sources may not be as reliable
  • Sources of data are limited
  • Text is crisp
  • People are used to studying printed text
  • Longer documents easier to read
  • Text can be unclear, difficult to read
  • People are used to scanning on the web
  • Longer documents are difficult to read
Portability Printed documents require no batteries or special handling

Web documents can be read from any location

Web documents are not accessible without the proper hardware and web connection

Mother nature, and circumstances ultimately have a say in web access!

Communication Print media is best for a one way conversation The web allows communication in multiple directions simutaneously
Accessibility Print documents are difficult and expensive to port to accessible documents or multiple languages Web documents can be made accessible to people with disabilities, and can be translated automatically to many languages
Repetition Wastes paper, resources Insures users don't miss important info


Consider Consumer Habits: Just as previous inventions such as the printing press and the television before it, electronic media and the web have changed the way people consume information. Television effects our attention spans, and the immediacy of data on the internet effects our tolerance for lengthy documents.

People Scan, not Read, on the Web: The web has not eliminated the sales of printed Carhenge, Nebraskamedia. People use the web to find solutions to their problems. Successful websites are easy to navigate and provide access to answers quickly. When web user are looking for an answer they:

  1. Use search engines to identify pages that may contain an answer
  2. Scan these pages for applicable articles
  3. Skim through the article to look for applicable paragraphs
  4. Skip paragraphs that may not contain the answer
  5. Scoop up the answer

Examine the following link for examples of a page that is adapted for easier scanning on the web: Carhenge

Invert The Pyramid : Documents on the web are frequently structured in a different manner from printed documents.

Printed documents can be written in a 'pyramid' format. They begin with a compelling issue, elaborate on the context, consider options and finally present a conclusion.

Web writers 'Invert The Pyramid', meaning that conclusions come first. Users are aided in their ability to 'scan' a document for content, so they know where a document leads. Inverting The Pyramid

Design Usable Web Documents: Since the web is a more spontaneous publishing environment, less care is often taken on readability and usability. While it has been argued that 'Content is King' on the web, this must be weighed against other limitations on the web. Regarding your website, ask yourself the following questions:Web Writing By The Eggman

  • Does my page load quickly?
  • Is my great content easy to find?
  • Is my text clear and easy to read?
  • Does my content speak in a clear and consistent voice?
  • Do I use simple words, in an effective manner?
  • Do I break up long text with bullet items & effective images?

The following is an unintended example of the effect of design on content. It is an example of an article on 'Writing For The Web' that is hampered by design elements: Web Writing By The Eggman

Hone Your Text: Since web users scan text, editing your text for the web improves your website. On the web 'Less Is More', in fact, according to web usability specialist Jakob Neilsen, people read 25% slower on the web. He suggests we cut the amount of text we use on the web: Be Succinct

If appropriate, it is suggested to cut half your text, then cut half again. This process of editing, and re-editing or 'honing' produces a polished, professional result. Reward your users for bothering with your site!

View the following web article for 8 steps to Trim That Text!

Make Your Text Scannable: Since users scan websites, let's aid them in their quest! Below are some considerations for making scannable web text:

  • Create Meaningful Titles
  • Use Subheadings
  • Shorten Paragraphs to one issue & 2-3 sentences
  • Break Up The Text with bullets, graphs & tables
  • Highlight key words & phrases
  • Place links at the end of paragraphs

Since it is difficult to get attention on the web, let alone command it, let's reward users for coming to our site by writing just for them! Creating Scannable Text

We Hold Our Site To Be Self Evident: According to web usability specialist, Steve Krug, the first law of usability is 'Don't Make Me Think'. The implication is that as far as possible, a web site should be self evident, obvious and self explanatory.

The benefits of a self evident web site are akin to 'good lighting' in a store. It makes everything seem better.

People spend far less time at our site than we imagine. If they can get what they want on these brief excursions, they remember our site as a good experience, and may return, link or recommend!

Please study the following article, which is the entire second chapter of the book 'Don't Make Me Think', entitled, How We Really Use The Web

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