web writing ii: this time it’s purposeful.

The previous post on writing for the Web brought a lot of thoughtful feedback and links, so I figured the topic was worth further discussion and contextualization.

I learned Web writing on the fly thanks to Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think (he’s @skrug on Twitter, for those who want to stalk, er, follow him). The title says it all: Good Web copy should be intuitive; users shouldn’t have to think too hard to understand or navigate. Clear, concise copy with phrased hyperlinks or obvious structural or related links make for pleasant trips through the tubes.

A few interesting Web sites, mentioned in or inspired by user comments, show different ways of treating Web content.

Wikipedia

Fig. A: Wikipedia

Dr. Brad mentioned Wikipedia which, as opposed to what he termed scribbling on the Web (Twitter, Facebook), does indeed use complete sentences and narrative structure (questionable accuracy and mangled grammar notwithstanding). We navigate Wikipedia by typing a term into its search box, though sometimes disambiguation is required if you’re looking for the TV show House, not the synonym for dwelling or the Congressional body. The obvious links mean you can learn more about Hugh Laurie or the Fox Network or Sherlock Holmes. But if anything, Wikipedia sometimes overlinks; making every third word a link doesn’t make for eye-friendly reading and can look like just plain showing off.

The Jargon File

Fig. B: The Jargon File

Eric, one of my former students, cited The Jargon File as a facile site that organizes content in a treelike outline form. The main thinking required here, other than comprehending difficult slang, would be trying to figure out where a topic may fall in the tree or subtree. Definitely low frills.

collegehockeystats.net

Fig. C: collegehockeystats.net

Eric’s comment reminded me of my favorite no-frills Web site, collegehockeystats.net. Content is king here, as it should be, but it’s remarkable that other than the curiously spinning puck on the right, the site is virtually void of design. Yet countless hockey fans, myself included, visit regularly and compulsively hit refresh. Why? Because, to borrow an old Kentucky Fried Chicken tagline, this site does one thing and does it well: delivers college hockey scores/box scores faster than anyone else. With a simple list of scores, each with a link to a related box score, the only things you have to think about are questions like how bad must Worcester State be to lose 7-0 to Brockport?

In writing for the Web, like life, there are no clear answers. The Internet started with dendritic sites like The Jargon File constructed via logical outline. It evolved into narratives, even interactive ones, like Wikipedia. And the hyperinteractivity of Web 2.0 means that many people are mainly Web scribblers. But the important thing, after all, is that Web sites — in any written form — should provide some kind of informative, enriching experience, which is made easier with well-written and intuitive content.

3 Comments

Filed under Web, writing

3 responses to “web writing ii: this time it’s purposeful.

  1. Thanks, Tim! I didn’t just get a response, I got a BLOG ENTRY I can blame myself — in part — for inspiring. I’ve resolved to write on the Web like I write in real life. Proper. Grammatical. Boring. However, when I talk, I resolve to continue being an idiot. Hey, that’s how I roll.

  2. Colin

    Design is overrated, content is king! (this coming from a designer)

  3. Melissa

    And, Colin, it can be almost impossible to get it across to your clients that yes, they do need to spend some significant time thinking about what information they want to put on their Web site, not just how to make it look pretty. Once you’ve dragged content out of them, the fun’s just starting. Bring on the madness of organization discussions!

    And don’t get me started about making sure your site’s accessible to all.

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