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Virtue of the Small

Writing for your Web Site

Most web sites exist primarily to convey information, and clear, readable writing is one of the most important ways to do this. The web lets us use pictures and other media, but writing is usually at the center of it all.

These pointers come from my own experience and from others' articles on writing for the web.

- Start by considering this all-important question before you begin: who are you writing for? This is one of my favorite ways to really focus the content of a site.

- Try to use short paragraphs - generally no more that 2-3 sentences, sometimes as few as one sentence.

- Keep sentences simple and focused on one point at a time. This is often a good idea, but text is sometimes more difficult to process when reading on a screen.

- Let readers discover quickly what will be covered by summarising in the first paragraph of any long section of text (similar to a newspaper article's structure).

- Use sub-headers to group blocks of related paragraphs logically and to break up long sections of text. Sections should be nice and compact.

- Consider whether text that lists items would work well as a bulleted list.

- Keep an eagle eye out for jargon that's second nature to you, but unfamiliar to your readers. If jargon is unavoidable, consider adding a glossary and linking to it from important terms wherever they are used.

- PLEASE DON'T USE ALL-CAPITAL LETTERS. There may be an occasional rare case where this is appropriate, but in general it does indeed convey an impression of either yelling or speaking to the reader as though he were a child. Even if this doesn't bother you, personally (perhaps you've grown used to it), it will bother others, even if it's at a low-enough level that they don't notice it particularly. It will affect their perception of you.

- Please resist the temptation to gratuitously capitalize things like job titles, adjectives that are personally important to you, and non-proper nouns. If there's a chance something shouldn't be capitalized, please consult a reference book or even the UNC Grammar Hotline. It will be much more effective if you show or explain why something is important, rather than capitalizing something ungrammatically.

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