The Web Content Style Guide

Authors: Gerry McGovern, Rob Norton, Catherine O'Dowd

Publisher: Financial Times Prentice Hall

Publication Date: October, 2001

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Good writing is the exception rather than the rule on the Web. One reason for this is simply that good writing is hard to do. Another is that many of the people who've been involved with the Web from the beginning have been slow to realize that writing is a very big part of what the online experience is about.

While the Web has important non-textual uses, most people who use it spend an overwhelming amount of their online time reading words on a page. It’s not an accident that we call them webpages. It follows that quality content—well written, well edited—is essential for the success of any website.

In addition to quality content, the design of websites must facilitate finding and reading that content. Web design is about content design. It’s about laying out content so that it can be easily read. It’s about organizing content so that it can be easily navigated and searched.

The number-one design principle for the Web is simplicity. Quality web design should be all about making life easier for the reader to find content, and then making it easy for them to read that content.

The Web Content Style Guide aims to codify the rules and standards that make for effective web writing. It also aims to give nontechnical guidance to all those involved in designing and running a website, from the chief executive officer to the junior writer. It examines topics from accessibility to animations, from fonts to forms, from information architecture to intranets, from navigation to newsgroups, from search to style guides.

Every entry is written from the perspective that a website must get the right content to the reader as quickly as possible, in the most readable manner. The fonts entry, for example, discusses the font sizes and types that work best onscreen.

The Web Content Style Guide covers some of the same ground as the offline style and usage guides, but is tailored specifically for online managers, writers, and editors.

Grammar and style issues of particular relevance to the Web that it focuses on include: the key differences between American and British English; how the Web accentuates plagiarism; what sort of dash looks best onscreen; the difference between data, content, information, and knowledge; and when and how to date documents. If you are involved in a website, whether as a manager, designer, writer, or editor, The Web Content Style Guide is essential for you. It is packed with examples, and is written in a clear, concise, and friendly manner.

Based on the authors’ 40-plus collective years experience in traditional publishing, and 15 in designing content-rich websites, it is always practical. It champions best-practices in web content writing and design, and is not afraid to kill off a few Internet myths along the way. Like a famous ad for a paint company, The Web Content Style Guide “does exactly what it says on the tin.”

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