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Web Style Guide


First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realized it's a brochure.
— Douglas Adams

AMONG THE MANY Web-induced trends, the emergence of a new writing genre designed to accommodate the reading habits of Web users is especially notable. People read differently on the Web. One reason for this is that reading text on-screen is unpleasant. Given the low resolution of the computer screen and the clumsiness of the scrolling page, many readers scan onscreen and print pages for reading. Another reason is that Web reading is not a stationary activity. Users roam from page to page collecting salient bits of information from a variety of sources. They need to be able quickly to ascertain the contents of a page, get the information they are seeking, and move on. Also, because Web pages may be accessed directly without preamble, they must be more independent than print pages. Too many Web pages end up as isolated fragments of information, divorced from the larger context of their parent Web sites through the lack of essential links and the simpler failure to inform the reader properly of their contents.

One of the most obvious characteristics of Web writing is hypertext links. Web authors use hypertext links to create or supplement concepts: a list of related links can reinforce their content or even serve as the focus of their site. The problem posed by links has little to do with the Web but is rooted in the concept of hypertext: Can the quick juxtaposition of two separate but conceptually related pieces of information encourage a better understanding of the overall message? A collection of links cannot create or sustain an argument or deliver a collection of facts as efficiently or legibly as conventional linear prose. When there is no sustained narrative, readers are sent aimlessly wandering in their quest for information. Links also become a maintenance issue, because most Web pages are ephemeral. Broken links shake the reader's confidence in the validity and timeliness of content. Links should be used sparingly and as a reinforcement of, not a substitute for, content.

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