By Roger V.

Skalbeck, Georgetown Law Library

Following are suggested tips for creating web content to comprehend quickly. DISCLAIMER: This document contains opinionated suggestions, prepared for a 15-minute presentation. Most examples are adapted from actual law school websites. Any criticism is meant to be constructive. Web Writing Tips Create Pages for Scanning, not Reading People spend very little time online. Most users scan content to meet a specific need or answer a question. “Is the library open today?” “How do I sign up for early interview week?” “What courses are offered next semester?” A typical user will scan a page or website looking for visual clues that meet an information need. Omit Needless Words Because most people scan content instead of reading it, removing text can often make scanning easier. When writing content for the web, avoid dense paragraphs. Review every sentence put online with the thought: What can I cut? Bad Where there is food and drink, cockroaches, ants, and silverfish follow. Not only are these vermin unhealthy and unpleasant for people, they can and do cause serious damage to library materials. Drinks in open containers can spill, damaging library materials, computers, and carpets. Therefore, library patrons may not eat in the Law Library; nor may they have drinks in containers that spill easily. Drinks are permitted if they are in spill-resistant containers and if they are kept away from computer workstations, photocopiers, microfiche readers, and other library electronic equipment. Better Library patrons may not eat in the Law Library. Drinks are permitted if they are in spill-resistant containers and if they are kept away from electronic equipment Even Better Food is not allowed in the library. Beverages are allowed in spillproof containers, if kept away from electronic equipment.

Effective Web Writing Tips

“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” – Steve Krug’s Third Law of Usability

Effective Web Writing Tips by Roger V. Skalbeck, 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Lists Enable Scanning Bulleted lists are easier to scan than paragraphs. Often bulleted lists require fewer words. Bad Our students are a diverse group with a single focus: legal excellence. Nearly half of XYZ Law students are female. Over 60% are minorities. In total, they are some of the best and the brightest in the country with an entering GPA of 3.60, and many already hold advanced degrees. Upon exiting XYZ Law, 96% of graduating students are employed within nine months. Better Our students are a diverse group with a single focus: legal excellence. Representative demographics for the XYS Law student population: • Nearly half female • Average GPA for entering students is 3.60 • Upon exiting, 96% of graduates are employed within nine months Even Better Our students are a diverse group with a single focus: legal excellence. XYS Law has 1,510 students, with the following traits: • 48% are female • Average GPA: 3.6 • 96% of graduates employed within 9 months

Prefer list elements with similar structure Bad LEED was created to: • Define "green building" by establishing a common standard of measurement • For whole-building design practice examples • Recognize environmental leadership in the building industry • Competition creation for green buildings • Raising consumer awareness of green building benefits • Transformation of the building market Better LEED was created to: • Define "green building" by establishing a common standard of measurement • Promote integrated, wholebuilding design practices • Recognize environmental leadership in the building industry • Stimulate green competition • Raise consumer awareness of green building benefits • Transform the building market Even Better LEED was created to: • Define "green building" by establishing a common measurement standard • Promote integrated, whole-building design practices • Recognize environmental leadership in the building industry • Stimulate green competition • Raise awareness of green building benefits • Transform the building market

Note: The middle “better” example is how it actually appears online. “Bad” is how it could be made worse. “Even Better” is one option for improving focus and adjusting wording.

Effective Web Writing Tips by Roger V. Skalbeck, 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Numbered Lists are for Instructions Use numbered lists to show instructions, a sequence of steps or a set of elements necessary to complete an objective. Bad To be considered as a visiting student, you will need to fill out the Application for Admission form and submit an application fee, a personal statement, and a résumé, as stated in the previous instructions, with the exception of the LSAT and LSDAS requirements. Better To apply as a visiting student, you must submit four items: 1. A completed Application for Admission form 2. The application fee 3. A personal statement, and 4. A résumé Wrong Visiting students have many oncampus opportunities: 1. Access to Career Services staff 2. Eligible for campus parking 3. Reduced-rate movie tickets 4. Lexis & Westlaw access

LSAT and LSDAS materials not required. Explanation: Visiting students applying for admission must submit four specific items to be eligible for consideration. The “bad” example doesn’t make this clear. The final example should use a bulleted list.

Organize Content with Headings When organizing structured content, prefer a visual hierarchy. Use headers like <h1><h2><h3> to organize content. • • Headings show relationships between page sections. Headings are useful for screen reader software and search engines to interpret page content.

Favor Links with Meaningful Text User attention is frequently drawn to linked text. Effective links should use meaningful text, starting with the most important words. Bad EMPLOYERS, click here for instructions on posting a job. STUDENTS & ALUMNI, click here to search for jobs (registration with the CSO is required first). Better Employers: Instructions for posting a job Students and Alumni: Search for Jobs (registration with the CSO is required) Even Better Employer Job Posting Instructions Search for Jobs Available to Students and Alumni (registration required)

Screen reader software can be used to jump from one link to another in a document, and the software will read links aloud. If linked text says “click here” or “download here”, this conveys nothing meaningful to screen readers, and humans have to think more about what is linked.

Effective Web Writing Tips by Roger V. Skalbeck, 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Linking Text is Better than Linking URLs For style purposes and to increase comprehension, it’s better to link to words in context than to link to a URL. Bad Better Find the Tax Compliance report on the GAO Tax Compliance: Website: IRS May Be Able to Improve http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10429.pdf Compliance for Nonresident Aliens and Updating Requirements Could Reduce Their Compliance Burden Even Better Tax Compliance: IRS May Be Able to Improve Compliance for Nonresident Aliens and Updating Requirements Could Reduce Their Compliance Burden (GAO Report, April 2010)

Having links listed as URLs disrupts the flow of narrative text. It is helpful to indicate the source of content, but having URLs doesn’t help users comprehend referenced content. Function and Form Tips Consider Task and Purpose for Pages Most web visitors come to a site with a specific need in mind, whether it’s to accomplish a task or answer a question. When looking at a page you maintain, ask yourself: • • Is there a task people want to complete on this page? Is this task obvious? What is the purpose of this page on our site? Does it accomplish this purpose well?

Avoid Happy Talk One frequently-criticized format of information online is referred to as “Happy Talk.” This is often filler text put on a page with an empty area on it. Just as often, it is laudatory text meant to explain why some product, office, or organization is good. In a chapter in the book “Don’t Make Me Think”, Steve Krug suggests that “Happy Talk Must Die.” He describes this as small talk, often free of meaningful content just meant to be sociable. These are real examples. Are they “Happy Talk” or not? You decide. Our School of Law (OSL) provides an exhilarating, yet challenging, environment to pursue the Juris Doctorate degree. OSL is dedicated to education that produces graduates who are competent to practice law and who are committed to living up to the highest ethical ideals for which the legal profession stands. Our Law School faculty members are dedicated teachers who combine academic accomplishment and professional achievement with a commitment to educational excellence. One expects outstanding intellectual leadership and scholarship from a law school faculty. At Our Law School, students enjoy something more: a dynamic group of teachers with extensive professional and public policy accomplishments. Most faculty members have had significant prior experience in legal practice: as public defenders, corporate lawyers, jurists, in government, and as advocates for the public interest. This rich store of real-world experience enables students to better understand the law from the perspective of the practicing attorney.

Effective Web Writing Tips by Roger V. Skalbeck, 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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