WebRef Update: Featured Article: Webnotes: Writing for the Web
Webnotes: Writing for the Web
A Need for Quality Content
Good news for writers: editorial content - the written word, is the chief method of communicating on the World Wide Web and demand for quality content is growing exponentially. Currently, there are an estimated 259 million Internet users worldwide. Forty-three percent of these users are U.S. citizens. The Computer Industry Almanac reports that there will be more than 490 million people online by 2002. But even though the Web doubles in size with over a million new sites every 30 days, it will be another decade before it exceeds the size of our worldwide telecommunications network. So, to cash in on this unfolding and emerging new writing medium there are some important details that good Web content developers (Web writers) will need to know. Let's look at a few.
Resolution and Eyetracking
Text on the Web is published in an uncomfortably low resolution. To demonstrate this quickly, think about reading your next issue of Writer's Journal on your television, printed in a 72-dpi (dots per inch) Times New Roman, 10-point font. Get the picture? It's too uncomfortable and strenuous for reality-based carbon life forms (we humans). It hurts our eyes. So, on the Web, in order to avoid this discomfort, we keep the browser stimulated and initiated with movement, flitting short blocks of large, high- impact sans-serif text that gets abruptly to the point across the screen. The most effective Web material will keep the reader constantly initiated with interactivity through a series of structured, interlacing hyperlinks and bookmarks. We let them 'cyber-plunge' into the material to wherever they see fit, but always offer substantive information to them once they arrive. The trick is to manipulate and control (this can be a good thing!) the interest of the reader/browser toward the end objective of informing him or her with our worthy prose.
A good example of this technique is demonstrated at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook (stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos089.htm). Here you will find the BLS employment outlook on writing and editing careers. Those intending to write for the Web will find it useful and profitable to learn the necessary linking and book marking skills for developing this kind of text content.
It's important to understand that Web browsers scan editorial material, searching for points of specific interest in an effort "To find useful information as quickly as possible," says John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen in their Web usability studies dating back to 1997. "When a page comes up," they said, "users focus their attention on the center of the window where they read the body text before they bother looking over header bars or other navigational elements." Apparently, Web sites score 58% higher in measured usability when their editorial content was written concisely, and 47% higher when the text was scannable. (See www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/).
Eye tracking movement studies conducted by the Poynter Institute in conjunction with Stanford University have further confirmed what most Web writers and content specialists had long suspected, that headlines and captions capture readers first and foremost. (See www.poynter.org/centerpiece/071200.htm) Although sinister news to the graphics industry, the fact that text is the true Web 'master' is good news for writers.
Revised: Oct 6, 2000