Writing Well for the Web: Overcoming the Most Common Mistakes
Overcoming the Most Common Mistakes
Writing Well for the Web
Here are a few tips for avoiding the most common pitfalls and grammatical mistakes:
- Check Your Pages After Uploading. Look at your pages using as many browsers (and platforms) as you can get your hands on.
- Spellcheck Your Work. Get an HTML authoring tool with a built-in spellchecker. Use it.
- Go Beyond the Spellchecker. Yes, it's true, spellcheckers won't catch grammatical errors. You'll have to train yourself to catch these. They're organized into three categories: editorial style, grammar, and punctuation.
Editorial issues are always up for debate -- you can look at multiple style guides and get conflicting opinions. Think of this as a starting point, to get you thinking like a true editor.
- Email vs. email vs. E-mail vs. e-mail. Just
use e-mail, with the hyphen and no capitalization,
unless it begins a sentence or is in a headline.
Most good editors steer away from hyphenation (and overuse of capital letters) when possible. In this case, however, running the lone letter "e" into "mail" masks the adjective effect of the "e." Keeping the hyphen also prevents mispronunciation.
- WWW vs. www and Web vs. web. Use the Web or
WWW in text and www in URLs. If you're being formal, spell out World Wide Web
using initial capital letters.
If you're writing about aspects of the Web, you can describe web pages, web surfers, or web sites, but use a lowercase "w" for these generic references.
- Online vs. On-line. When new concepts are created, they generally start out as two words: on screen, on paper, on line. As the phrase evolves, it becomes hyphenated: on-line. When the word has been absorbed into the language, the hyphen is dropped. So, we're moving from on-line to online. Stick with online.
- In order to. Avoid this, it's usually unnecessary. Use just the word to instead.
- Co (as a prefix). Try to avoid hyphenating words like coworker, coauthor, and coordinate. You can use a hyphen if co is followed by a proper noun, but remember the current trend is away from hyphenation when possible.
- A vs. An with Acronyms. Use a or an based on the acronym's pronunciation. For example, a WYSIWYG application and an ASCII file.
Hopefully, you're on your way to being a more thoughtful writer -- or at least comfortable enough to seek a professional editor's advice to avoid Crit-i-Cal eRro-rs.
Some of the most common writing mistakes involve these tricky grammatical rules. When you're using one of these words, stop to think about how you're using the word to avoid having egg on your face (or your web page).
- Affect vs. Effect. Affect is a verb that means to influence. Effect is a noun that means a result. If you affect something, you can cause an effect.
- That vs. Which. This is a toughie, and even
editors don't always agree. A good rule of thumb: If the phrase starting with
that/which sounds better when separated by commas, use which.
Example: The web site that/which Catherine uploaded to the server crashed when we looked at it.
Try it both ways to see the subtle difference, then pick one:
- The web site, which Catherine uploaded to the server, crashed when we looked at it.
- The web site that Catherine uploaded to the server crashed when we looked at it.
- Set Up vs. Setup and Log On vs. Logon. These
are subtle. Use set up and log on as verbs in instructions, such as: set up
the printer or log on the network.
Setup and logon are adjectives or nouns, such as: the setup program or your logon password. This rule goes for other similar pairs, like back up and backup, too.
Feel like you've got the hang of this? Then you'll sail through the punctuation section...
Some of these kind of cross the boundary into grammar issues. Oh well -- at least I warned you up front.
- It's vs. Its. It's is a contraction for
it is or it has.
Its is a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to it
or of it.
A Test: If you can replace it's/its with it is or it has, then it's is correct. If you can replace it's/its with his, her, or their, then its is correct.
- They're vs. Their vs. There. They're is a
contraction for they are. Their is a possessive
pronoun meaning belonging to them or
of them. There is the partner of
here (which is neither here nor there).
A Test: If you can replace they're/their/there with they are, then they're is correct. If you can replace they're/their/there with his or her, then their is correct. If you can replace they're/their/there with here, then there is correct.
- ... vs. .... When using an ellipsis, type three periods -- even if it's at the end of a sentence...
- "Like this?" vs. "Like this"?
Well, a U.S. style manual would tell you that all punctuation goes inside the
quotation marks, "like this." In
British style, punctuation goes outside the quotes, unless the punctuation is
part of the quote itself.
Of course, when dealing with URLs and computer jargon, make sure the punctuation is properly placed so that the meaning isn't changed.
Congratulations! You're a writer! You're well on your way to chunking information, writing attention-grabbing headlines, and avoiding common pitfalls (or seeking an editor's opinion). If you don't have an editor handy, check out these online resources instead.
Comments are welcome
Created: Dec. 7, 1996
Revised: Jan. 8, 2001