The changes, the changes!

19 Jun

Indeed I do apologise, but there has been method in the madness.

I have been reading Rachel McAlpine’s Web Word Wizardry: A Guide to Writing for the Web and Intranet (2001) and recommend its clear style and common sense. In choosing this template and the one now on Ninglun Apr 06 to Nov 07 and Ninglun’s Gateway I have been driven by the idea of a single column format and minimal scrolling. “People scroll on the web — sometimes,” says McAlpine. My friend Sirdan is apparently typical; if he doesn’t seen an entry in one or two screens he tends to miss it altogether.

The template here does not involve any of the fiddly changes that I had to make on Ninglun Apr 06 to Nov 07. That is a relief. It will however truncate some pictures, some of which I may resize later.

While McAlpine’s book(s), her site, and her blog primarily address commercial web writers, much applies to blogs — a word not mentioned, by the way, in the 2001 book. Blogs did exist then, but have taken off since as we know.

One point she makes does particularly interest me. Having been an ESL teacher herself, McAlpine is attuned to the idea that writing on the web has inevitably an international audience. In the 2001 book she says:

Here’s how to make sure your web pages are easy to understand and easy to translate. Start by writing plain English, and then edit your pages along these lines:

  • Be stricter than usual about sentence length.
  • Keep sentences simple, with the real subject first.
  • Be strict about using positive language and avoiding negative.*
  • Try to avoid slang, hidden metaphors, and idiomatic expressions.
  • Avoid phrasal verbs.
  • Use simple tenses.
  • Beware of short common words with many meanings.
  • Double-check the clarity of it, they, this, these, that, and those.

I would add that much depends on what you are writing about and who your envisaged audience is; I think those caveats also apply more to commercial or official sites than to blogs. Nonetheless, they are worth thinking about.

* She is talking here of grammar, not of philosophy.

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Posted by on June 19, 2008 in blogging, site news, writing


3 responses to “The changes, the changes!

  1. Kevin

    June 20, 2008 at 4:19 am

    Aside: Your website appears very thin to me. Here’s a snapshot. If you could find a way to make it vary with people’s screens, that would be a good thing.

    Just a head’s up.

  2. ninglun

    June 20, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for the thought, Kevin, but can’t be done. However, a plus is that this will look good on lots of browsers and even on older computers.

    By the way, did you note I added you to the blog roll at last? You have been a bit slack there lately though… 😉

  3. Kevin

    June 20, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I did not notice that, you crazy hippie liberal! I will of course reciprocate, but feel free to remove the link the next time I say something stupid. I can’t help it. Too many things are considered ‘offensive’ from a liberal’s point of view.

    Do you remember when that Romulan dude told Captain Kirk that ‘in a different world, we would be friends’? That’s the way I feel about you! In a world where men and women were a single sex, mohammed never wrote his murderous koran, and Karl Marx put the word ‘peaceful’ in his book over and over, we’d be on the same damned side right now! It’s amazing how such small things balloon into such massive disagreements over the course of hundreds of years.

    I blame Einstein. Not for any good reason though. He was just kind of a jerk. Good at math though!

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