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					WWW: Writing for the Wired

         September 25, 2002

         Darlene Fichter, President
      Northern Lights Internet Solutions Ltd.

1.       Reading & Writing
2.       Research
         Do’s and Don’ts
         Format, typography, style, ...
3.       Document Conversion & Standards
4.       Writing for:”
          Search Engines
          Error Messages
5.       Usability Testing
          Quick and easy techniques
6.       Strategies to encourage good writing
   Focus on IT – the technology
   Often key Intranet developers do not have
    writing experience
       Programmer, Information architect, Content
        experts, Intranet manager, Designers
   As a result:
       Writing ignored
       Time spent on top level pages only
       Time spent on menus/graphics
       Site vs. Page
The Reality
   Micro-content is as important as the
    navigation, side menus, design
Focus of the Presentation:
   Usability studies
       Watch and observe 1000’s of users using
        the web and intranet
Reading & Writing
   Goal is to communicate
       Strategy
       Key messages
       Your audience

                    There is nothing more important than
                    the strategy phase. If you don’t
                    spend time on it, it’s like being on a
                    dark road without your headlights on.
                    Drue Miller, Webmistress Vivid Studios
Intranet Audience
   Focused on getting the job done
   Diverse
       Experience
       Usage patterns
       Nature of their work – Engineers, Financial
        analysts, Marketers
Novice / Occasional Users*
     Intimidated by complex menus
     Like unambiguous structure
         Apples or Oranges
     Easy access to overviews that illustrate how
      information is arranged, maps, FAQs
     Glossary of technical terms, acronyms,
     Visual layouts & graphics that trigger their

  * Adapted from Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale
                       University Press, 1999.
Expert/Frequent Users*
    Depend on you for speed and accuracy
    Impatient with low-density graphics that offer
     only a few choices
    Prefer stripped down fast loading text menus
    Specific goals
    Appreciate detailed text menus, site structure
     outlines, comprehensive site indexes, well
     designed search engines
    Accelerators – ways to bypass the fluff

 * Adapted from Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale
                      University Press, 1999.
International Users
   Don’t abbreviate dates 3/4/99 March 4
    or April 3?
   Avoid idiosyncratic professional jargon
    or obscure technical terms on your intro
   Avoid situational metaphors
  Users Want to Know
Who?     Tell them WHO is speaking – what
         department or person created the page.

What?    WHAT is the page about? Have a title.

When?     WHEN – time is important in evaluating the
          worth. Date every page. Especially important
          in long and complex documents that may be
Where?   Ideally, WHERE are they – what intranet site or
  Top 10 Things Employees Need
  to Know*
   1.   Contact information               6.    Information about
   2.   Internal news about                     competitors
        the company                       7.    Maps
   3.   Press coverage about              8.    Contact information
        the company
                                                for someone outside
   4.   Press coverage about                    the company
        a topic
   5.   Company policies                  9.    Latest analyst report
                                          10.   Background on
                                                unfamiliar company

*Alison Head. On-the-Job Research: How Usable Are Corporate Intranets?
How Users Read                 on
   How do people read
    on the screen?
       Top to bottom
       Left to right
       Focus first on
        the micro-content
       Scroll to the bottom
       Only after failing
         - side menu
         - top menu

   25% slower on the screen
Research shows: DON’T READ
   People who are looking for information
    don't read, they scan.
   If they have to read instructions or help
    page, most people will not.
   Readers understand more when reading
   Create page titles, headings and
   Be consistent in how you design the
       Use   font and/or color to offset headings
Headings & Subheadings
       Rule of Thumb
        Emphasis – rule of thumb one at a time.
         Bold or size.
        Eyes are tuned to small differences.
        No need to SHOUT at users.
Punch Up the Power of Headlines
   Make every heading word meaningful
   Make sure the 1st headline or title on
    page summarizes the content
   Separate sections with 2nd level
   3 levels on one page is about all the
    reader can grasp
Use Lists
   Use lists or tables
   Use bullets when sequence doesn’t
    matter and use numbers when it does
   Lists speed up scanning but slow down
   Use lists when you have key concepts,
    not full sentences
  Which is easiest to read?
  Research says…
Anatomy         Anatomy         Anatomy
Biology         Biology
Biotechnology   Biotechnology   Chemistry
Chemistry       Chemistry
Microbiology    Microbiology    Zoology
Physics         Physics
Zoology         Zoology
   Can help organize content for easier
Table: Example 1
       20th Century
       Van Gogh
Table: Example 2

   Art             Format
   20th Century    Books
   Modernism       Journals
   Impressionism   Maps
   Van Gogh
      Table: Example 3

Art      20th Century   Modernism   Impressionism
Format   Books          Journals    Maps
   Organize your content to be read in
    columns, not as rows
   Categorical not alphabetical
   Do not use table borders to delineate
    the content – use space and
    background color
Table: Example
Users Also Scan for Links
   Make the links in your text meaningful
   Make visited and unvisited links contrast
    with the base font color
Example of Scanning
Employee Phone Number Search
 1.   Search by last name
 2.   Browse employees by office location
 3.   List all staff, click here
Hypertext: Classic Mistakes
   Overused – everything is a link.
   Used for key concepts instead of lists or
    headings based on the belief.
   Often the link is referenced itself
    interrupting the reader’s thoughts. To
    start the tour, click here.
Use Links Wisely
   Hypertext is powerful but can also be
   Links can help reduce clutter by moving
    information to separate Web pages
   But when concentrating on content,
    people often ignore embedded links
Create Links That Don’t Need To
Be Followed
   Use long descriptive links, captions, or
    headings so users can eliminate choices
   UIE’s research shows that links with 4
    to 9 words are more effective
Reading Slower: Implications for
   Be succinct
   Pyramid style (newspaper)
   Scanning – lists, lists and more lists
   Looks a lot like PowerPoint
Be Succinct
   Simplify for understanding
   Use fewer words, smaller words, and
    simpler words
   Place words into simple sentence
   Examples:
Rule of Thumb: 50%
   ½ the word count of conventional
Invert the Pyramid

   Newspaper style writing
   State your conclusion first
   Summarize most important items
   Then get to the details
One Idea Per Paragraph
   Stanford/Poynter study showed that
    many web visitors will read only the
    first or second sentences of paragraph
   Use a strong lead sentence that
    summarizes content
       Aka blogs
Fragments or Sentences
   Some debate
   Poynter seems to imply sentences
   Imperative style sentences starting with
    a verb can be very effective
Harness Verbs
   Verbs get your visitors energized
   Using active verbs also helps improve
    your credibility
   Examples:
       Download Marketing XYZ presentation.
       Register for XYZ workshop.
Reading & Trust
   Users are judgmental and strongly
    adverse to marketese, or “happy talk”
   For your Intranet to be credible, you
    must be:
       Current
       Accurate
       Objective
Things to Avoid
   “Marketese”
       Anything that sounds like “advertising” is a
        complete turn off … the best, the biggest
   Avoid superlatives and vague claims
   Don't boast, exaggerate or self-
   Avoid advertising talk such as "greatest
    thing since..." and "state-of-the-art..."
   Present facts clearly and users will
    decide for themselves what is useful

    Adapted from:
Objective ≠ Boring
   Rule of Thumb
       Be fresh and engaging
       Write as if you are talking to an “individual”
Be Concrete
   Use concrete words: nouns and verbs
   Avoid adjectives and adverbs
   Make sure your facts are correct and
    timely. Are your statistics from this
    year, this quarter?
   Make sure your links work! If they
    don’t, it’s sure to annoy users.
   Date your content.
Reading, Scanning & Typography
   Our eyes look for patterns
   Control the words, control the layout and
    the look
   Make it very easy to see repeating patterns


      Consider typography carefully when the
       page content is mainly text. The use of
       type will define the page.
           Use margins to separate areas

* This section is based Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale
            University Press, 1999 * SURL Laboratory studies,

 Clutter and confusion are failures of
 design, not attributes of information.

Edward Tufte, 1997 interview
Web & Justified Text
   Hard to justify to text
   Left justified the most legible option

Right Justified

                  Left Justified
Headlines & Justification
   Left aligned is best
   Right aligned is okay
   Centered works well when you can
    justify text (not recommended on the
    web) and pairs poorly with a jagged left
Line Length
   Many web pages have lines that are too
    long to read quickly
   The eye’s acute focus is only about 3
    inches wide
   Key Consideration:
       Accessibility
       Controlling the length
   On the web usually 50 to 70 characters
Text Cells
   Create a table with a 365 pixel wide cell
   With a 12 point Times New Roman font,
    you’ll have about fifty characters and 9
    to 10 words per line

* Adapted from Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale
                     University Press, 1999.
Capital & Lower Case Letters
   UPPERCASE is harder to read
   We read by recognizing the overall shape of
    words, rather than parsing letter by letter
Tops of Words
Best Practices
   Title case or downstyle typing where
    you capitalize only the first word
    You need to consider:
    1.   Legibility on the screen
    2.   How well it prints if the page or
         document is lengthy
    3.   Visitor may override your font choices
   Arial or Times New Roman fonts at 12
    pt are the most legible*

         *SURL Laboratory usability studies.

Screen & Printing
   Times New Roman is a good choice for
    legibility on the screen
   It is compact and is also legible on
   Verdana & Georgia look great on the
    screen but look large when printed
Conventional Choices
   Serif face such as Times New Roman
    for body text and sans serif such as
    Arial or Verdana for headlines
Classic Mistakes
   Fonts are too small
       Over 40 with bifocals!
   Failure to recognize that user needs to
    control fonts
Classic Mistakes
   Too many fonts

                     Page looks like a clown’s pants.
Bold, Italics, Color & Underline
   Bold is effective and works well for
    section headings.
   Italics is harder to read. It does stand
    out. Use for short blocks of text only.
   Underlined text is out. Looks like a
Colored Text
   In blocks of text, colored words looks
    like hyperlinks. Avoid this use.

Colored Text in Headings
 Using colored text in headings can be
What about longer documents?
   To convert or not convert
       How will it be used?
            Chunks or all at once
            Printing
       How will your search engine index it?
       How is it produced?
            All at once, revised in bits
       Nature of the content
            Prescription drug tables
What about “Save As”?
   Standards
       XHTML
       Bloated code
       Short term
What if users need to read a
long document?
   Provide a good headline and summary
   Consider rewriting it (50%)
   Provide an outline
   Provide navigation within the document
    to anywhere else in the document
   Make it easy to print any section or the
    whole document
Long Documents as HTML
   Chunk it
   Present a “model” that the users grasp
   Offer Internal navigation
       Next, Previous
       Back to section
       Back to T of C
To Scroll or Not to Scroll?
   Early days, scrolling caused fatal errors
   Scrolling works now provided that the
    page looks like it continues
Above The Fold
   Hierarchy of Importance
       Make sure the most important items are
        above the fold
   To enhance navigation, link density
    should be the greatest above the fold
Examples: Above/Below
Examples: Above/Below
Language, Metaphors, Puns and
   Use the language of your users
   Ambiguity is often a problem
   Provide context
Classic Mistakes
   Web sites are full of jargon
   Organized by internal departments and
    use internal names
   Works fine for those that are within the
   Main Intranet site should try to use
    general terms or use “jargon” followed
    by an explanation
Puns & Fun
   Humor is tricky. Puns and metaphors
    often don’t work quite like you expect.
    If you have an international audience
    they often don’t translate well.
Other Important Writing Tasks
1.   Error Messages
2.   Search Engines
Error Messages
   Who writes the error messages?
   Predict points of failure and suggest
       404 Not Found
       No search results
   Should stand out from other text
       Should be comprehensible!
Search Engines
   Crucial audience, often overlooked, is
    search engines
   Find out how your search engine ranks:
       <title>, <h1>, metatags, keyword
        frequency, date
       Write to satisfy the engine
       Increase “findability” – consider how users
        will search for this page
Make Your Web Pages Free
   Many users will arrive at a page from a
    search result list
   The page may be the 22 page in the long
    document or the home page
   The user needs to know – where they are,
    what’s up and what’s below

          How good is it?
What really works?
    Have you ever been at a
   web development meeting
   where people debated the
    size of an image or the
   color of link or a label for
“Cookie” Test
   Preference or “cookie” testing
       My Account
       Your Account Status
       Chequing Account
       Login
Paper Mockups
   Take out pages and ask where would you
    click to do X, Y and Z?
Imitation is the sincerest form of
   Thinking of changing your site
   See a good idea
   Test their page/site with task based
Task Based Testing
   Real users doing typical tasks
   Observers
   Analysis
  Summary of Results
              1        2         3    4    5     Median   Mean

         1   60              540     240          240     280

         2   840             50      60    120    90      267.5

         3   600      300            240          300     380

         4   180                     300          240     240
         5   240       80    58      175   170    170     150.6

         6   420                                  420     420

         7                   180     180          180     180
10 Strategies to Encourage Good
1.   Have an editorial style guide for
     acronyms, names, etc.
2.   Mandate site wide look & feel using
3.   Lead by example
4.   Recognize good writing
5.   Encourage key content providers to be
     observers in usability testing
6.        Educate & market
           Tips, newsletters
7.        Reward with “search engine”
          placement those that “play nice”
8.        Set up quality checklists
9.        Train new authors
10.        Educate manager’s that one of the
          “W”s in WWW is writing!
Secret to Good Wired Writing
   Observe, test, and learn
   Test some more
   Write often and write a lot
Thank you!
   Questions?

   Darlene Fichter
    Northern Lights Internet Solutions Ltd.

       Web Sites Usability & Writing


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