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How To Write For the Web

Avast, guest, and welcome to my page. I'm going to teach you how to write for the Internet.

Writing for the Internet is different than writing for print. But most people don't know that, so they write the same way. And then they don't understand why people don't like their site.

I'm going to teach you how people read webpages. And then I'm going to show you how to write and design your page so it makes everyone happy.

What this guide is not: This guide is not about how to code a webpage. That's Patraiki's job. And it's not about how to plan and create a page, either. Al claims she's going to work on a guide for that, too.

I'm here to teach you how to write the text that other people will read and how to design what people will see. This isn't a grammar guide. We're going to talk about how people use the Internet, and how to help them get the most out of your page.

Note: These tips don't apply to stories. Stories are different. This page is for petpages that give advice or tips.

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How People Read

On the Internet, very few people actually sit down and read something all the way through. Instead, people scan webpages. They look for important words, topics that look helpful or entertaining, and pictures with captions.

Why do people read this way? Computer screens don't have as much contrast between colors as printed materials do. That means your eyes have to work harder to read. Computer screens are also brighter than printed materials, which again makes your eyes work harder.

The most important reason, though, is that people are impatient on the Internet. Clicking a button instantly loads your page. They want to get all the information they need from your page just as quickly.

People also look for short paragraphs and short pages. Again, because they're easier to read. Now, writing short pages is almost impossible on Neopets because each pet only gets one page. However, using short paragraphs and section breaks will help your readers.

Now, yes, there are some people (Al among them) who will read every single word. But remember that these are the minority. You don't want to cut off the majority of your readers just because you yourself would read every single word.

So what does that mean?

Your audience wants answers, and they want them fast. So, give them what they want!

Even if your page has a lot of information (for an example, see Atablicryon's guide), you can still make the information easy to get.

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How To Write

Your audience is impatient, is hard to impress, and has a short attention span. So how are you going to write what they need?

There are a couple of strategies you can use. We'll look them here:

Say the most important thing first

Your audience may only read the first sentence or first paragraph. So make it count! Say the most important thing first. Get their attention, and they'll be more likely to stay with you.

Also, even if they leave your page, they still would have read the most important thing.

Highlight important words

Readers are scanning, so make important words stand out (just like that ;). Here are some ways to highlight words:

  • bold
  • italic
  • bold italic
  • font style
  • size
  • color
  • links
Do not use underlines to highlight words. Links and headings are the only things that should be underlined. (Al, however, is bad and does not like to underline her links. But she doesn't use underlining for anything else.)

Use lists

Lists summarize important points or keywords. With just a heading and a list, you can get the point of a section quickly. (See the previous section, Highlight, for an example ;)

Lists make your eye read up-to-down instead of left-to-right. Your eye actually slows down on lists and reads them better.

Use short paragraphs

Short paragraphs are friendly. They tell the reader, "Relax, this isn't hard. Lots of space, not a lot of words. Come on, this won't take long"!

Each paragraph should be about one idea. If you try to write about more than one, you'll confuse the reader and end up with long paragraphs.

Use short sentences

The same idea as the paragraphs. Long sentences will confuse the reader. Get to the point. And then make a new sentence.

Be concise

Remember: impatient readers. Don't make them read too much. Write clearly and well.

Take what you write and cut 50%. Then take what's left and cut 50% again. Now you're more concise.

(No, that does not equal zero. Take 50% from the beginning, and you have 50%. Now take half of 50% -- you have 25%. You can never reach zero that way.)

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How to Design

Besides being written well, your page also needs to be designed well. People will actually notice your layout before they start to read. If the layout is not friendly, they probably won't stay to read.

Choose colors carefully

Black font on a white background is the Internet standard. You may not like that. That's fine; you don't have to be normal. (Al's not, and we still like her most of the time.)

But be sure that the colors you choose have a high contrast. If the colors are too similar, then no one will be able to read them.

A light background works better than a dark one. Dark-colored fonts work better than light ones.

Play with colors, but don't give your readers a headache!

Use centered text sparingly

Centered text is harder to read because your eye has to try to find the start of the next line. Centering works fine for short lines, like headings.

Use left-aligned text for longer paragraphs. It's not as "glamorous", maybe, but it's easier to read!

Watch your width

Also watch how wide your areas of text are. If they stretch from one side of the browser to another, people will lose their place more easily. (Al has an extra-wide monitor, too -- that's really hard!)

Use a div layer or table to set the limit on your text.

Beware of gimmicks

Flashing things, marquees, music, lots of images. You may really want these on your pages. But no one else does.

If people are visiting your petpage, they want to get information. If they're visiting your Shop, they want to buy something. If they visit your lookup or pet's lookup, and it's full of obnoxious, overbearing, hideous animations and noise, they'll assume that you are obnoxious, overbearing, hideous, noisy, and immature.

Expect different computers

Everyone does not use the same browser, monitor size, or internet connection. Your page may look different for someone else because of that. Anticipate problems and plan around them so that everyone can read your page.

A bunch of people came up with internet standards for how browsers should display HTML, CSS, etc. Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Camino are "standards-compliant browsers." IE is not. Guess which ones you should be writing code for?

Watch out for fixing font, table, div layers, etc. sizes using pixels or points. Everything may align well on your page. Someone with a different size monitor may be frustrated when the element is too small or too big.

Use "em" (for fonts) and percentages for everything else. That way your page will size itself correctly no matter who is viewing it.

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Why You Should Write Correctly

On the Internet, people can't see what you look like. They can't judge you by how old you are, how tall you are, how much you weigh, what color or Species you are, or how much education you have. They might associate you with an avatar. But how do they really form opinions about you?

From your writing!

If your writing has grammar and spelling errors, or if your page is dense or poorly formatted, people will make a judgement about you. They will think you're unintelligent and incapable. If your petpage looks bad or is hard to read, they will assume that your advice is not worth reading!

Look at Atablicryon's petpage for a moment. Would you want to read it if the font was small? If the background and font clashed? If the layout was messed up? If the whole page was one long column of text? Probably not.

People's first impression of you on the Internet is your writing.

(Now, you may think that all this "judgement" without actually meeting you isn't right or fair or politically correct. Sorry, but that's what humans do: we make judgements, even when we claim we don't.)

The Chat Boards

The same things happens on the chat boards. People who use chat speak ("b4", "u", "sum1", "plz", etc.) or who spell very poorly (rite/write/right, site/sight, board/bored, etc.) are generally assumed to be young and/or uneducated.

And often, someone will comment on their poor writing skills and will link that to "you need to grow up" or "learn to spell".

How you write is just as important as what you write. (And sometimes, it's even more important!)

Use spell check!

You should use a spell checker on your page. (Please!)

To use spell check: Upload the finished product to your petpage. Then copy all the text (ctrl+a then ctrl+c) and paste into a word processing program (ctrl+v). Check out every word it says is spelled wrong. Then fix them!

(Firefox has a handy plug-in called "It's all Text!" that spell-checks what you type into text areas {including the "Edit Petpage" text area}. Useful for posting on the Boards, too.)

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