This page describes something of writing for the Information Age,
and may be helpful for those preparing web pages for the first time,
especially when done in behalf of a government agency, or other
public information source.
In this draft style sheet we make the following distinctions:
BROWSER - The software (usually Google
Chrome, Apple Safari, MS Edge, Internet Explorer, Netscape,
Mosaic or others--Wiki's
list) that is used by your desktop computer, your laptop
or tablet (now especially your smartphone) to browse through the
web and display selected pages.
READER or SURFER or USER or VISITOR
- The person who is searching for and reading web
BOOKMARK - Used to refer both to internal MS
WORD bookmarks (which become anchors for internal transfers
within the same document), and to browser bookmarks that
keep track of URLs the surfer has visited (and wants to keep
track of). We try to use the term BOOKMARK/FAVORITE to
distinguish the latter. In a penultimate draft we will try to
clean this up a little.
HYPERTEXT or HTML - is Hypertext markup
language. It consists of the contents of your page, in plain
text that is "marked up" with tags that will tell a hypertext
viewer (such as a web browser) the structure of what you have
written. Structure (as will be seen below), deals with whether a
line is a heading, a sub-heading, an ordered or unordered list
Planning for and Management
On-line Information Exchange
The essence of Government-sponsored information exchange (or any
public information exchange) is participation and follow-up. If we
merely want to provide a bulletin board service on which to post
information for readers, we will have missed one of the truly great
opportunities of the Information Age. By planning to encourage the
active participation of, and commentary from readers in an
information exchange, we can greatly improve our agency's
stolid image, while at the same time expanding the flow of good
ideas for substantial improvements in most of our activities and
programs. Electronic information flows should be based on
interaction, hypertext linking, navigation, search facilities, and
connections to other online services and continuous updates. These
are the significant features which separate web pages intended for
information exchange, from those posted as brochureware.
In this context, when we plan the development of a website, we
can benefit from considering the kinds of conversations it
will foster, the kinds of follow-up it will require, and the kinds
of changes it will encourage. We also need to consider the related
information (see the Linking and
Navigation section below), how it will all tie together, and
the impacts that will create. Remember, we are not the only
publishers any more. Others will publish related information, some
of it helpful, some unhelpful. At some point, all this
information will be linked together very
conveniently so everyone can be fully informed as never before. We
need to be careful to consider how our information, linked together with the
other information, will help or hinder our reader
community's development. We need to be sure we have the resources,
and that we have done our homework so that we are able to provide
the correct and complete information, and in the timely manner
which will be most helpful.
At the same time, in a government agency, we want to foster
active participatory democracy in ways that assure that the
outcome will appropriately reflect that participation. These
matters will require careful forethought, planning and integration
in times of scarce resources. Government is behind the curve in
many areas of on-line information exchange, and the security
required to execute it effectively. We need to be actively engaged
now in developing the skills at every level and in every
department so that we are ready with an effective, planned and
balanced response (delivered by an experienced staff) when the
electorate begins using on-line means in significant numbers. We
cannot afford to wait until our residents demand these on-line
services and facilities: the learning curve is too steep, the
demands reach into every corner of the enterprise and into every
level, and the equipment and networking infrastructure are not,
by any means, overnight placements.
The section "Before you start"
below (and the rest of this paper), contains additional planning
and management ideas to be considered.
Writing for the Information Age, and more specifically for the
World-Wide Web and other on-line media, will require significant
changes in writing strategies for most authors. All authors need to
know that readers view on-line content very differently from the way
they view print media. When writing a letter, memo, report or other
paper, a writer has traditionally had complete control over how the
material was presented on the paper and at least some influence over
the order in which it will likely be read. S/he has a large degree
of control over (or at least an understanding of) the intended and
likely audiences. S/he has also had the luxury of focusing on a
narrow segment of the subject matter, when needed.
In writing for an
on-line medium, and for web publishing in particular, writers need
to keep in mind at least the following:
That the web (and the Internet generally) is a user-driven
system in which the user requests what s/he wants. It is
therefore quite a departure from the publisher-driven systems of
print and broadcast media (and even less formal publications)
with which we are familiar. These are sometimes called "user-pull"
and "publisher-push" philosophies (see below). A very
different mind-set is required for most writers to switch from
"publisher-push" to "user-pull" in all respects of
That you will have little control over many of the details of
how the information is presented to the reader (remember, the
user controls fonts, font sizes, screen size, what fits on a
line, the presence and placement of graphic images, etc.);
That your pages will reach a world-wide audience encompassing
readers with a very wide diversity of educational levels,
cultures, heritages, beliefs and traditions;
That you will have virtually no control over where the reader
will start reading the document, how much detail s/he will find
useful or helpful, or what fragements of your page s/he will use
(and perhaps pass on to others);
That you will have no control over the copying of the
document, the forums in which it will be displayed or the
associated comments/praises/criticisms/ridicule with which it
will appear in those forums; and
That you need to take time to link your document
to (and from) the related material to gain the significant
efficiencies of on-line information exchange, and to be seen as
a helpful information provider.
Remember that this world-wide system of interconnections only works
if all kinds of equipment and systems can be hooked up to it (both
for input and for output). As a writer, you can never fully
anticipate who will see your work. And you will absolutely never
know what equipment every reader has for viewing it. You know
nothing of screen sizes, fonts or font sizes, line widths, or the
availability of color or graphics. You don't even know if your
reader is from a culture where writing is traditionally displayed
from left-to-right, or right-to-left. Hypertext, the language of the
world-wide web, is intended to take care of all the formatting and
layout of your document, using settings which are the preferences
of the reader.
The genius of the hypertext
model is that you are providing the contents (as
writers have always provided); and you are also providing the structure,
but not the format or layout of
the document. The format and layout are the responsibility (and
the preference) of the reader. It is the reader's equipment,
network connection and circumstances which largely determine how
the material will be presented. Since the author could never
anticipate each case, there is great advantage in a system which
leaves these considerations to the reader, and provides the
facilities to satisfy his/her preferences. It is also consistent
with the "user-pull" (as opposed to "publisher-push")
philosophy of the Information Age. It is a great struggle for most
authors to maintain the separation of these two concepts when they
start to write for the Information Age. It is also difficult to
always keep in mind that the reader's equipment may not permit the
display of any of the graphics you included in your document.
Furthermore, the whole thing is complicated when the publisher is
selling something or feels a strong responsibility to teach the
reader. In that context, of course, we all have a responsibility
to teach and enlighten. It may be helpful to see yourself,
however, not as a grade-school teacher with stick in hand, but
more as a doting grandparent, offering your sound advice to your
students on their own terms, at their own pace and according to
their own preferences.
To over-simplify for a moment, the structure has
to do with the order of the presentation, what lines will show up
as headings, sub- headings, ordered and unordered lists, etc.;
whereas the format has to do with what fits on a
line, with fonts and font sizes and colors, whether the graphics
will appear at all, and if so, where they are positioned with
respect to the text, etc.
The whole question of the distinction between "structure" and
"format" is clouded by the fact that not everybody recognizes its
importance. Those, in particular, who have something to sell, and
who want to impose their format on the reader, often use measures
which largely defeat the intent of "reader-pull"
hypertext. Each author must come to grips with where s/he fits in
the spectrum between fully "reader-pull" and the old "publisher-push."
In addition to the
fact that the reader's equipment is unknown to the author, there
is a philosophical component to this question of "reader-pull"
vs. "publisher-push." In the Information Age, the
power of selection has been transferred to readers (and away from
publishers) in fundamentally important ways. Readers are empowered
to seek after information from sources they trust and believe.
Publishers, on the other hand, see much stiffer competition as
everybody becomes a publisher in some sense, and as the
traditional news media are supplanted by the blogs. Much more,
publishers need to earn the trust and confidence of their
readers. The effects of this shift are to democratize and empower
readers in every stratum of society. Readers thus become much more
self-reliant in learning, for example. And publishers who link
together all the related material in convenient ways add value to
their offerings that readers will remember and seek out.
There are important implications in this "user pull"
world for authors and others. Whereas before authors were mainly
concerned with creation of (more-or-less complete) linear
structures, this shift will require them more and more to focus
on smaller more modular structures which can be pieced together
into coherent information packages. In some cases, authors will
be involved in the packaging; in other cases, users will simply
collect and package the modules themselves (or provide value to
other users by so doing). In yet other cases, authors will make
a shift from delivery of packaged information (traditional
authors) to delivery of information access pathways (traditional
librarians). All of these shifts will require significant
changes in the established mindsets of publishers, authors,
librarians and others. [See Telleen's paper "IntraNet Methodology: Concepts and Rationale,"specifically,
the section "Users, Authors, Brokers and Publishers."
See also their White Papers and Info on Intranets and
"Whereas the communication process has in the past typically
implied an assumption that the message sender had more
information than the message receiver, now the relationship is
. "The one with control is not the one with the
message but the one with the mouse."
These quotes come from John Gehl and Suzanne Douglas, "From Movable Type to Data Deluge,"
originally from the January 1999 edition of "The World and
I" magazine for educators. This is a very insightful
article dealing with the similarities (and contrasts) between
the development of the printing press in the mid 1400s and that
of the Internet in the latter 1900s. The printing press allowed
for the repeatability of putting the same information in front
of many readers relatively cheaply. Now the Internet not only
makes everybody a publisher, but allows for the customized
repeatability of information in substantially unlimited
quantities over unlimited distances in virtually no time--all of
it under the control and initiative of the reader, and at a
microscopic fraction of the cost of books or other printed
matter. The printing press gave rise to European nationalism by
focusing attention on regional languages; but the Internet is
fragmenting nationalism and democratizing society by focusing
attention on ideas and agendas that transcend mere national
Another aspect of "user pull" is that we want to
cater to the user's need to identify early whether this page
contains what he wants or not. We do that, in part, by
"front-loading" the document with the big picture, conclusions,
etc., rather than the more traditional background and context.
These can come later, in the details of the page. By
"front-loading" [see "Writing like a
Journalist" below] we also pave the way for automated
agents to scan the page reliably. Keep in mind that blind
people, those with low vision, etc., cannot scan the page
visually to capture the essence of it in that first instant. If
this "big picture" information is at the beginning, their
agents, be they braile interpreters, speech synthesizers, or
what have you, will be able to provide (right at the outset) the
information their owners need. While the numbers of people using
agents is small at present, it will not be long until most of us
are using automated agents to seek out useful information while
we sleep. Pages already using this "front-loading" technique
will not have to be revised to receive proper attention when
agents are on the prowl routinely.
Sterne of Target
Marketing had posted an article "Promote and Deliver" in the
December 1998 issue of CIO Web Business magazine which was aimed at
web marketers. Although his strong emphasis is marketing, the main
thrust applies to all providers of on-line information: "give
them what they want, or somebody else will." In government,
we might say "give them what they want, or somebody will be
elected who will." Another article in the same issue, "Have
it Their Way" provided a similar emphasis. Both articles contain a
number of good hints about the convenience of on-line information
displays, particularly as they relate to the visitor's ease in
reaching the customer service department or help desk. If your "web
server is dishing up pages 24/7, customers want to know why they
can't reach a service rep at 2 a.m. The Web never sleeps, so why
should the customer service department?" In all these cases,
applicability to government, health, education and other services is
as obvious as it is to business.
Website Usability, Usability Design and Usability
Engineering are all terms that describe how useful, usable and
convenient your website is for visitors, the degree to which you
have used User-centered Design (UCD) in its creation and the
degree to which you understand your visitors' expectations,
behaviors, and preferences. Keith Instone has posted a collection of
links and accompanying information about human factors, user
interface issues, and usable design specific to the World Wide
Web. His Usable Web adds value to the links by
providing descriptions, multiple organizational schemes (by date,
by site, by topic) and custom search engine queries." Keith posts
a number of papers and links describing User-centered Design
Principles, a very good set of Topic Descriptions, and much more.
He does it mainly as a project of passion, he says. I found the
quality to be consistently high.
Nielson's Alert Box column "User-Supportive
Architecture" provides some good discussion about the
"ideology of the Internet," and that it derives from a time now
past. He points out that we now need a "more utility-enhancing,
human-centered ideology" with more realistic assumptions and
better facilities which emphasize convenience to the user.
As a government
entity, our role as a publisher is to provide sound, accurate,
timely and convenient sources of information that are reliable and
accessible to everyone, and
that are linked in such a way that most readers can navigate quickly to what they want,
finding only as much detail as they want at that moment (easily
skipping over detail needed at other times, or by other readers),
and that are linked to
the related material extensively. Remember, some readers
will come to your page wanting the information that starts at the
beginning and covers the "whole story" you have presented. Others
will want only a fragment of the information (sometimes a fragment
that is not at all important to your intent in writing the piece).
As authors, our focus needs to be on a convenient structure that
lets readers quickly meet their needs. If we do that (at
the expense of spending very little time, effort and other
resources on defining specific formats),
we will be serving our citizens in the best way, helping to foster
the openness and increased particpatory democracy we are all
A good web page for conveying information is read, not
like a novel, but like a map. Success is not measured by how many
visitors it attracts, but rather how many readers quickly find
what they want. The reader first needs to know if he has the right
map (title and table of contents); then he needs to be able to
quickly reach the fragment he wants today (links from
descriptive table of contents). When he gets there, he needs to
get to some of the footnotes for the detail he wants today.
Finally, he needs links to related and background information
available from others that is outside the scope of your article.
Both material with greater detail, and material providing the
overall context, philosophy, etc., are required. You never know
which way he is going. An excellent website dealing with these
aspects of web page creation is called "Good Documents," originally created by Dan
Bricklin of Trellix
Corporation [cookies (cookie
caution)]. Notice how the "Good Documents" website is organized and
presented. It contains sections on philosophy, where/how to apply,
samples, comments from others, related sites and much more.
See also: "E- write," by Marilynne Rudick and Leslie
O'Flahavan, posting their writing suggestions and course
offerings along with a bunch of good examples of on-line writing
and e-mail messages. Their "Web Writing" article hits all the main
points to know in creating a good website, and provides several
current examples (with the reasons each was chosen). They also
publish a free newsletter. Lots of good stuff here, especially
for those new to writing for the on-line world.
See also: Penn State's World Campus distance learning initiative
offers a World Campus 101 distance learning course
(an excellent on-line course, free to anybody with an Internet
connection and a browser. As part of that course, they post a
short but very helpful page "General Tips on Writing" which
gives tips on outlining (or as they call it: pre-writing),
thesis statements, and the actual writing of an essay or paper.
This is definitely a worthwhile short list of suggestions for
web page writers.
(particularly department administrators) that you have the
resources and the commitment to maintain all of the pages which
you publish on the web. We are probably better off never to have
published a page than to tell our visitors (either with stale or
incomplete information, or with inoperative links) that we were
unable to keep it current, relevant, complete and useful. This
question is not nearly as simple as just removing stale pages,
either. See "Changing and
Deleting Pages" below. Moreover, maintaining the currency
of the information is a relatively small part of the costs of
the care and feeding of on-line information exchange systems.
Remember that in the on-line world, visitors expect to provide
feedback. When they send you a message (or a query or a
suggestion) it will often be after they have read your web page,
and they will often want to know about things you deliberately
left out because you were not yet ready to define them. They
will be expecting a complete and thoughtful answer (usually in
less time than you have to develop a good one); and sometimes
they will also let you know that the information should have
been provided on the web page initially. The point here is about
being prepared to tell the whole story, and
then doing it.
terms of making web page creation and maintenance a part of most
jobs in your department. While initially you may wish to start
with one person doing this activity, you will quickly want to
make it a routine part of every job that creates and maintains
the information your department issues. Having A do B's web
pages makes no more sense than having A write B's letters or
FAXes, or make their phone calls. Web page creation and
maintenance requires only the training to use another text
editor (one that is very similar to WORD, at that); and only the
person responsbile will develop the real ownership that is
required to keep it
current, link it
to and from the related information, etc.
Remember, it is the interactivity of the exchanged
information and the linkages to the related information that
distinguish helpful web pages from mere brochureware.
Read the U.S. Federal Government's guidelines for using plain
language. It is titled "Federal Plain
Language Guidelines," and is dated May 2011.
It is in .pdf format; but other formats are available. It is
not as current as we might like; but it contains many very
important and timeless "in principle" topics that any author
should always be considering (see its table of contents near the
top). Topics such as the following are crucial to a "plain
Write for your audience
Organize the information
Choose your words carefully
Keep it conversational
Design for reading
Follow web standards
Test your assumptions
Keep these ideas in mind as you develop your content.
See also our page of help for HTML, especially the section on creating
a web page. There is a reference there to Eric Tilton's paper "Composing
HTML," particularly its section "Document Style
Considerations" provides some interesting insights about the use
of HTML to provide a device-independent way of describing
information. Tilton emphasizes the importance of marking up a
document so that your information is labeled as what it is instead
of as how it should be displayed. [Paradoxically, the page does
not have a table of contents (!)]. The point here is that HTML
is intended to describe the structure of your page, not
how it should be presented to your reader. You could
profitably spend a week or two just looking around at HTML
primers and style sheets, and forming opinions about what
constitutes a good web page, and how it should be constructed
for the best presentation on your reader's screen or paper
(recognizing that you have only limited control of that aspect
of its ultimate use).
Define the overall hierarchy of your pages. Decide in
advance, what pages you will publish, where they will fit, how
they will relate to each other and to the pages published by
other departments. Consider the kinds of interactivity they will
foster, and be sure you (and others?) are prepared with
follow-up material and resources that will provide a credible
response to queries, etc. When new pages are added, it will then
be clear where they go, what they should be linked to (and from)
and how the follow-up will be handled.
Define how each selected page fits with your purposes,
benefits to be achieved and audiences to be reached (see "Before you Start" above),
and how it fits with the related material. Refine the foregoing
as needed to keep pace with developments, changes in strategy,
etc. This will help everyone to stay on-side, and add to the
overall coherence of your developing website.
Select web pages whose content is fairly stable and which
have long term interest to others. Documents which need to be
updated every week will attract a lot of maintenance effort, and
can be easily justified when they are already being updated for
other purposes. Documents which give rise to questions and
encourage feedback will require appropriate resources to handle
the feedback effectively. To begin, some departments with
limited resources will want to generate a web presence which
tells their story with a minimum of on-going maintenance and
Try hard to integrate the preparation of web pages into the
established work flows in place of existing or separate
paper-based procedures. One department, for example, now posts
Agendas and Minutes of their meetings on the web. They no longer
separately prepare hard copy of these documents for
distribution. Rather, they prepare these documents for posting
on the web, and print copies from the web only as
necessary for hard copy distribution. In the longer term, they
can simply advise users that these documents are on the web, and
that they can print the information from that source if it is
needed in hard copy. More and more, as we post information
on-line, we will need to consider reducing the costs of also
preparing separate paper-based editions of the same information.
By making the web pages so they can be printed by the users as
an option, we may be able to smooth the way for future
reductions of these costs. In some cases, of course, we will be
able to eliminate the separate paper-based costs as soon as the
information is made available on-line. That would be the ideal.
Avoid picking pages which are likely to suffer from neglect.
We are quite a bit better off with no web page on a subject than
we are with a stale or out-dated one. In the on-line world, the
neglect shown by an enterprise is more noticeable and
significant than it might be in other less-immediate contexts.
Pick pages where
you can tell the whole story. If you only have time and
resources to present the end-point of some subject (particularly
an advanced subject), it will generate a lot of questions,
answering which will keep you busier than if you had written the
whole story in the first place. And if you choose to ignore
questions, you put the City's name and goodwill in jeopardy. It
is always a good question to ask: "Will this page generate a lot
of questions?" If it will, consider expanding it to reduce the
incidence of questions, or publishing it in some other medium
where there is substantially lower expectation of interaction
between readers and authors.
A corollary to the "whole story" dictum, by the way, has to
do with your pages about the Internet and the Information Age.
When writing on these and related subjects, be sure to start a
the beginning and deal with the subject thoroughly. The
popular Internet is only a few years old, and its usage is
growing at a rapid pace. What that means is that, on the
average, fully half your audience has been on-line only a few
years or less; and fully three- quarters has less than ~5
years' experience. Take a moment to give them the benefit of
your good suggestions. (Then, use lots of headings and a good
table of contents so the more experienced ones can still find
what they want quickly).
Consider selecting information that will expand participatory
democracy rather than suppressing the need for interaction,
follow-up and response. The facilities of the Information Age
provide us with very significant opportunities to expand
"customer listening" and active participation by the electorate
in everything we do. Let's plan to be among the first to seize
these opportunities for the development and improvement of our
In this draft we offer guidance and suggestions for new web authors.
The page is neither definitive nor authoritative. Some items are
more important than others. Some are essential; others are
preferences; still others are in between. Guidance is offered with
the "why's and wherefore's" to the extent of the author's current
understanding, with references to a few convenient sources, with the
assumed bias of a government information source and under the
overall guidance of the entity's purposes in mounting an on-line
presence. Additional information about the intent and applicability
of these guidelines may be found in the Preface
to this page.
As questions are encountered which are not answered here, new
authors are encouraged to suggest that both the questions and
their answers be added. This will benefit all future beginners.
We are still in the stone age of graphics (and audio/video)
transmission and the compression techniques which will ultimately
help us onto the information highway with pictures, sounds and
movies. Plain text has been compressed adequately since the
beginning; but a great deal of work remains to be done for graphics,
sound and video. Until the new compression techniques for graphics,
sound and video develop somewhere past the bronze age, we are going
to be stuck with extraordinarily large file sizes (and long load
times) to convey very little information. For now, in order to
compensate for these virtually unmanageable file sizes (and their
long load times), we need to use graphics, sounds and videos
sparingly, and only where they really deliver for us. For documents
being distributed to readers of all sorts, valid cases of pages with
large graphic images appear to be relatively few and far between.
Start by keeping graphics to a manageable size:
The foremost thing to always remember about graphics is
that some of your readers will not have the equipment to
display graphics at all. Those readers will see the text
"[image]" in their document where you have included the most
extravagantly-concocted graphic images. At some point, you
always need to proofread your page without the images to see
how it will look, and to visualize the kind of impression it
will make. Keep in mind, also, that the most experienced and
sophisticated web users often use a non-graphics browser when
searching for information in order to eliminate the
backgrounds and to expedite the loading times (especially when
they are experiencing network delays). In such cases the
graphics are never loaded with the text. [Remember
the value of publishing pages which are seen as valuable by
Emeritus ... this may be one of your good opportunities
to make a favorable impression, and gain the significant benefits.
Graphics pretty up a page; but we need to be seen to be
helpful to the web surfer with a slow connection, a busy
network or a less-than-current browser. Probably a few Kb of
images is plenty for a web page. [I know, it's too low: let's
negotiate]. Keep in mind that it is the load times associated
with these large files which will quickly exhaust the patience
of your visitors. One rule of thumb is that you will lose 20%
of your remaining audience for every 10 seconds of loading
time required by your pages. At a standard 28.8 Kbaud modem
speed, 10 seconds only allows you 25-30 Kb of content per
page. Add the file size of your page to the sum of the sizes
of all the graphic images, and make a comparison. If your
visitor is working when the network is busy--when is the last
time you saw your modem running at rated speed?--double the
load times for a start (and then be aware that three-quarters
of Internet users are running 28.8 Kbaud or slower modems). It
doesn't leave you much room for graphics if you want to say
something and still retain, say, at least three-quarters of
your readers. Graphics are simply your biggest enemy. Be
sure they deliver in benefits everything that they cost.
Nielsen has posted interesting findings about how much
users pay attention to photos on your website. His "Photos as Content" blurb points out
that his eyetracking studies have shown that some types of
pictures are simply ignored, while the ones that are deemed
relevant to the content are scrutinized. If the ignored
graphics contribute significantly to the loading time, they
serve only to drive away some of your viewers. There is
clearly no point in that.
If you can tastefully use the same graphic image more than
once, or on several of your pages, do so. Most browsers
maintain internal copies of the graphics rather than
requesting them anew from the web server. Thus, these graphics
can be displayed the second and subsequent times substantially
for free. Since it is the URL of the image that the browser
stores and checks, the second reference to a graphic image is
fetched from the desktop computer's memory even if the request
is issued from a different page.
Assure that you use the Alt="text description" parameter on
all images (especially those with text in them). Remember that
many users deliberately turn off images so they can obtain
information more quickly. If your image provides information,
or helps with navigation, then the "Alt=" option is mandatory,
of course. When you include the Alt="text description"
parameter, the browser without graphics capability is
programmed to pick up your "text description" and display it
in place of the graphic image. If the browser has graphics
capability, then the "text description" is ignored (unless the
graphic image is unavailable, garbled or turned off).
After making your page presentable without the graphics,
review again the costs of including them and satisfy yourself
that the value they add is justified (both by the delay to
readers who wait them out, and by the loss of readers who are
unwilling to wait).
Warn your readers of large pages, weather its the graphics or
other content that makes them large. Any file over 20-30 Kb
should contain a warning at least at the links where it might
first be selected. Keep in mind, however, that if you put a size
warning on every link to a page, you are creating a maintenance
headache every time the page grows by another 10 Kb.
Nielsen posts a page entitled "Response Times: The Three Important Limits,"
which contains some interesting commentary (a three minute read)
about response times generally, with specific notes about
graphics impact on web page response times, and what it means in
loss of readers.
Be very cautious of your use of "advanced" HTML features,
especially forms, frames, etc. Forms require cgi-scripts running
on the server; and tables and frames can look pretty if you are
viewing them with an advanced browser. To somebody who visits
your page with an older browser, the contents of tables are
displayed as a shambles (not merely unreadable). In some cases
you can make out what might be intended; in most cases, it is
totally incomprehensible. As a government agency, we have an
obligation to provide our information so that a reader can see
it via any commonly-used access arrangement (perhaps all access
When you use frames,
for example, a reader cannot bookmark
the page he ultimately reaches (rather, only the frame from
which it was accessed). That can be a significant annoyance to
readers wishing to return to a useful page, or to refer others
to it directly. And keeping a visitor from setting a convenient
bookmark contravenes the open and "user pull"
philosophies that government is encouraging. Frames also create
difficulties in printing web pages, especially for new Internet
users. The essence of the flaw in the implemention of frames is
that the viewing context and the navigation context become
disjointed. Viewers, however, expect them to coincide as they do
in non-frames implementations. Again, as a government agency we
need to be good Internet citizens and provide our information in
readable and accessible form at all times, and to support an
open, full "user pull" implementation. What this
means, I think, is that we should not use frames; and we need to
be cautious about forms other than e-mail forms. Dr. Jakob
Nielsen, Distinguished Engineer for Strategic Technology
at SunSoft (the software planet of Sun Microsystems), and
accessibility expert, hosts a
page about frames, in which he says "just say no." He
lists the top several dozen reasons why the current frames
implementations are more of a plague to be avoided than a nifty
feature to put to useful work. He also cites his "Top
Mistakes in Web Design," which new web page creators might
like to consider reviewing. [NOTE: as of 30 May 1999,
Jakob has also posted "The Top Ten New Mistakes of Web
Tables are sometimes used in which page widths become
customized to certain screen sizes and screen resolutions.
Remember, these are defined by the visitor and his/her
equipment. If frames are required, then they need to be tested
with a large variety of screen sizes, resolution settings, etc.,
to be sure they make sense when displayed at all optional
settings. Remember, also, that users will not scroll
horizontally more than once or twice to read your page. If your
page extends off the edge of a visitor's screen, virtually
everyone will click off to somewhere else, after a line or two,
no matter how wonderful your content.
Frames are also sometimes used by authors who want to use one
frame (usually in a bar to the left, or a strip at the top) to
list navigation options, and to display the page selected by the
visitor in a frame to the right or below. This can seem to work
well when the content is displayed in the planned frame set.
When a visitor finishes with the content page, the navigation
options are all handy in the other frame. The visitor simply
picks a new option, which then replaces the content in the other
frame. But it is far from useful when the content
page is displayed by itself.
Each web page needs to be designed to also stand alone.
Shortly after your pages are posted on the web, the search
engines will find them and enter them into their databases.
This allows a great many more visitors to find your
information, and is presumably what you want. It will only
list the page with your frame set in it among all the other
pages, however. If a search engine user picks one of your
content pages, it will be displayed on his/her browser by
itself.* In that case, there are no navigation options if
they have all been located in another frame. Be sure each page
contains links to all the related and parent pages so that
visitors can easily see what else you have to offer. And in
any case, be sure your links work, and all your content makes
sense whether or not the page is loaded within your frame set.
* - At a local
government server, 5 or 6% of visitors arrive at any given
page via home pages. 94 or 95% of our visitors go directly
to the page as it was referred to them, either by a
colleague or a search engine.
These problems are but a small part of the many
difficulties encountered when authors try to specify format
and layout along with structure and content. Remember that the
web is a "user pull" medium, and that format is a preference of the
user (suitable to his equipment, line speed, settings
for his/her other software, etc.). See "Writing for the
Information Age," above.
The <center> HTML tag is an advanced tag (believe it or
not). Since part of the HTML design calls for browsers to ignore
tags they do not understand, your line will be left-justified by
those browsers. If your document looks equally good (or at least
passable) when your centered lines are left-justified, then that
advanced tag might be considered acceptable. Others, which
result in a garbled display, might not.
Don't try to force your preferred layout on the reader.
Remember that this is a user-driven medium, not a
publisher-driven one; and you have no idea what equipment or
systems the reader is using. One of the significant developments
of the Information Age is the movement away from the "we know
what is best for you" mentality of publishers. Help your reader
to get what s/he wants quickly and with a minimum of fuss and
bother--and certainly with the absence of annoyance. Remember,
web visitors are on a mission to find specific information;
everything else is a distraction. Take advantage of the
hypertext model: design for its strengths rather than fighting
its weaknesses. A good preface and table of contents go a long
way in this area. See also "Writing for the
Information Age" above.
Nielsen's page "The Difference Between Web Design and GUI
Design," where he points out that "designing for the Web
is different from designing traditional software user
interfaces. Mainly, the designer has to give up full control and
share responsibility for the User Interface with users and their
Preformatted Text: HTML does not generally recognize
blanks other than to delimit words (either blank spaces or blank
lines). This can be disconcerting to new web authors. For the
really tough situations which require it, there is an exception
to "user-pull" format control. It is called "preformatted text."
When an HTML author specifies preformatted text, the lines are
displayed just as they have been written, in a fixed-width font
(usually Courier, and usually with 10 character per inch
horizontal pitch), and with the lines determined by the author.
This is one way to present what might otherwise be presented in
a small table, for example.
These few lines are examples of preformatted text.
When you use it, keep in mind that you know nothing
of the line widths of the equipment the reader is
using. For that reason, if you keep your line widths
around 65 characters or less, your message will be
displayed such that most readers will see it much as
you have written it. (These lines are around 55
characters wide, by the way). Below is a small table.
Customer Year Amount Telephone Code
Fergussen, S 1983 900 555-4321 z
Jones, Jayson G 1997 1,234 555-1234 y-89
Smythe, Quincy 2000 1,100 555-6666
Preformatted text was provided because all of the earliest
equipment was purely character-oriented, with no provision to
change the fonts. Most of this equipment was based on an
80-character line width, but with part of that width taken up
with line numbers, other control characters, line feeds, etc.
One by-product of all this is that in a pinch, a web author
can insert a single line with a single blank character in
preformatted text, and use it in place of what would be an
extra carriage return on a typewriter.
Keeping Web Pages Accessible
For Everyone (including those with slow lines and/or non-graphics
Just as universal access is a central government role in global
information exchange generally, web page accessibility is
at the kernel of government web page publishing. We are in the
information business, far from the entertainment business. We need
to be publishing content which everybody--and this includes all of
our constituencies, especially the local electorate--can access with
reasonable convenience: not just those with the fastest lines, the
latest browsers, the hottest plug-ins and the most up-to-date access
mechanisms. Our information needs to be reliable, friendly and
helpful; and it needs to encourage interactivity. The
sections on "Graphics" and "Use of Advanced HTML" cover two
important aspects of accessibility. The section "Avoid Specifying Formats" adds a
philosophical view; and "Encourage
Feedback" deals with openness and fostering participatory
democracy. It is this combination that adds up to
Below are some further considerations, including page publishing
which is intended for visitors with personal disabilities.
Keep in mind the reading you did in the section "Getting
started with some background reading," above.
Be careful of background colors. They might look lovely on
your monitor; but there is no adequate substitute for testing
them on a variety of screens, or just sticking with plain old
One website had what they thought was a very cleverly
thought out (and tested) light grey background, only to be
informed by a visitor with a very slightly degraded monitor
that it came out grey all right on his monitor, but it had
black cross-hatching to achieve the effect on a white field! The
visitor said that viewing their web pages was about like
trying to read the phone book through a screen door. [
:-) ]. We want to avoid that kind of cleverness like the
Remember that the universe of web visitors is growing at
somewhere around 100% per year. This means that, on average,
half of your visitors have been on-line less than a year. Many
of them will find it very helpful if you start at the beginning
and tell the whole story. This growth rate also means, however,
that more and more of your visitors are old hands. Studies have
shown that the novelty of web surfing, particularly for
information content seekers, wears off quickly. Animated
graphics (called variously "dancing baloney" and "bouncing
irritants") that sometimes appeal to new users can be an
annoying distraction to a serious visitor looking for solid
content (and hoping to find something quickly; see Jim
Sterne's "Flash is Trash" article. Jakob
Nielsen, who studies web page usability, posts a page
describing "The Increasing Conservatism of Web Users,"
and reporting on the rapid slowing of innovation by Internet
users. "Just give it to us plain and simple," says their
feedback. Many do not want to be continually installing the
latest plug-ins and upgrading their browsers to the latest
versions. His chart showing that rates of uptake of new browser
versions in 1997 are at scarcely half the rates from 1995 and
1996 is portentous.
The "Web Accessibility Issues" page previously posted under
the Americans with Disabilities Act - Information and Resources
at UC Santa Cruz website pointed out that "recent guidance by
the Department of Justice clearly states that ADA requirements
apply to Internet web pages. In a response to an inquiry dated
September 9, 1996, the DOJ states:
Entities subject to Title II or III of the ADA must provide
effective communication to individuals with disabilities, and
covered entities that use the Internet to provide information
regarding their programs, goods or services must be
prepared to offer those communications through accessible
means. Such entities may provide web page information
in text format that is accessible to screen reading devices
that are used by people with visual impairments, and they may
also offer alternative accessible formats that are identified
in a screen-readable format on a web page."
As mentioned in the Graphics
section above, always warn your readers of large pages,
weather its the graphics or other content that makes them large.
Any file over 20- 30 Kb should contain a warning at least in the
links where it might first be selected. Keep in mind, however,
that if you put a size warning on every link to an expanding
page, you are creating a maintenance headache every time the
page grows by another 10 Kb.
Accessibility Initiative (WAI) points out "The power of
the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of
disability is an essential aspect." - a quote from Tim
Director and inventor of the World Wide Web. They
also post "WAI Accessibility Guidelines: Page Authoring,"
a comprehensive checklist of accessibility items, and "WAI
Reference List on Web Accessibility," a comprehensive list
of links to design and development guidelines, research
projects, white papers, tools and utilities, conferences and
other resources all dealing with web page accessibility. In
January 2000 they posted an extensive page of "Policies
Relating to Web Accessibility," the index to which contains links to
accessibility initiatives by country for about a dozen countries
(and by region or legislative topic, mainly in the U.S.), and
will be expanded to include more as they become available.
The Treasury Board of Canada has posted a "Common Look and Feel (CLF)" initiative
with a substantial "Accessibility" section. This section
points out that "Some Canadians rely on assistive technologies
such as text readers, audio players and voice activated devices
to overcome the barriers presented by standard technologies.
Others may be limited by their own technology. But old browsers,
non-standard operating systems, slow connections, small screens
or text-only screens should not stand in the way of obtaining
information that is available to others." The Government of Canada Internet Guide
contains helpful sections for departments planning and setting
up an Internet presence. The guide contains lots of rationale
and general principles which would apply to any Internet
website. Their "Universal Accessibility" section states "It
is every Canadian's right to receive government information or
service in a form that can be used, and it is the Government
of Canada's obligation to provide it." The Treasury
Board's "Government On-line" page provides links to
components of their connectivity initiative. Their "Results for Canadians: A Management Framework
for the Government of Canada" paper (Table of Contents only) provides
The other side (at least the reader's side) of this
accessibility question has to do with helping the reader get
quickly to the information s/he wants. That is what
s/he is spending his/her scarce attention to get. A lively and
(... er) "attention-grabbing" article "We've Got to Pay
Attention!" was written on this subject by Tom Davenport,
formerly a professor of management information systems at Boston UniversitySchool of Management and
director of the Andersen Consulting Institute for Strategic
Change. Tom makes the point that I.T. professionals are very
adept at providing information (and lately providing
easy access to it, enterprise-wide). But we have not
been very good at assuring (or even paying attention-sorry) that
it gets attended to. Tom's point is that it's the attention
that is in short supply. We are flooded with information;
and I.T. professionals (including web page authors) need to
start focusing more on making sure that the important stuff gets
attended to ... or displayed in a way that it garners the
necessary attention. The article is a great three-minute read.
Subsequently, Davenport posted another Think Tank article (CIO
Magazine, issue of 1 Sept 1999), "The Eyes Have It," in which he identifies
ten principles which "will help you to attract and keep your
To attract eyeballs, one must think about evolutionary
Eyeballs get bored easily;
Eyeballs alone aren't worth much;
Know your eyeballs;
Not all eyeballs are created equal;
If you can't measure eyeballs, you can't manage them;
Eyeball-catching technologies compete with eyeball-saving
Once an eyeball leaves you, it's hard to get it back;
Automated searching is anti-eyeball; and
If you want eyeballs, you've got to pay for them.
In addition to paying attention to the reading and learning
styles of your visitors, you also need to know some of the
fundamentals about how they learn to use their computers better
(... or not). It will help you quite a bit when you are
contemplating adding a feature or navigation strategy that is
unlikely to be found on other web pages. An excellent paper on
this subject, "Paradox of the Active User" will likely
surprise you on several fronts. It is about 20 pages in Adobe
Acrobat format, but well worth the read. And if you are an
active user yourself, you will likely see yourself several times
in their findings. Anyhow, here are a few quotes from the paper:
"people have considerable trouble learning to use
"Their paramount goal is throughput. ... It reduces their
motivation to spend any time just learning about the system,
so that when situations appear that could be more effectively
handled by new procedures, they are likely to stick with the
procedures they already know, regardless of their efficacy."
"These paradoxes are not defects in human learning to be
remediated. They are fundamental properties of learning."
"Learners at every level of experience try to avoid reading
[about how the software works]."
"When a domain expert tries to use a tool designed
specifically to support his or her work activities, the
orientation is to do real work, not to read descriptions and
instructions, or to practice step-by-step exercises."
"We found that many users were not discovering and using
functions which could have made their jobs easier."
"We have no reason to believe that users will take the time
and effort to find and consult human experts any more than
they would [read] a reference manual."
Research Group at the University of Arizona posts research
findings concerning the effectiveness, openness and
accessibility of websites of public organizations. "Our research
is intended to establish, first, the reasons for the expansion
of the Web into public organizations (diffusion/configuration
research using modified event history analysis) and, second, the
organizational effectiveness and accountability consequences of
this expansion for policy issues in general and in specific."
The University of Delaware web team has posted their development notes for a recent website
overhaul they undertook. It has a substantial accessibility
Be careful of imposing your understanding of the subject's
taxonomy on your reader. This is subtle. In a book, you often
impose your taxonomy on your reader, especially in an
introductory book. Part of what you are teaching your reader has
to do with the classification of the information you are
presenting. A web page is different. Here are some points to
The web is much more immediate than a book or any printed
material. [It is somewhat akin to the difference between a
letter and e-mail. In e-mail, you are less formal, and you
communicate in sentences rather than groups of paragraphs.
Part of what drives the difference is the immediacy of e-mail.
This same principle applies to the Web.]
The Web surfer is often as conversant as you are (maybe
even more so) with the subject matter you are presenting. In
that case s/he has his/her own well-developed internal
taxonomy of the subject matter. S/he will feel imposed upon if
s/he has to learn your taxonomy in order to find things.
[Remember, this is a user-driven medium; we don't ever want to
impose anything on anybody--that's an "old guard" technique.
We want to stay far away from being painted with that
Help the reader who has a well-developed sense of the
taxonomy of the subject to get what s/he wants. Use key word
synonyms (especially in opening sentences) to broaden the
audience who can understand and follow your work quickly.
Most web readers are in a hurry; want to point and click
(not to scroll); and are reluctant to wade through any
introductory or explanatory material (no matter how well
presented, and no matter how necessary you think it might
envision how both a novice to the subject and a
professor emeritus will feel about your page in the early
moments after their arrival at your web page. Pamper the
novice who has not yet learned that s/he has not yet mastered
the entire field. Show the professors and the more experienced
users that they can rely on your page in their references to
others. Remember: part of your job is to teach;
another part is to inform quickly, reliably and efficiently. [A
very significant benefit that comes from impressing the
professor emeritus with your page, by the way, is the
citations he will give to his colleagues. These can be more
valuable than a bundle of space in a search engine or other
data base. It is worth remembering; and the credibility of
the City (and hence the rest of our website) depends on this
good will in significant ways.]
Consider writing like a newspaper Journalist (a good one).
Tell the whole story in the Title. Then tell the whole story in
the Preface, including your intent for the page (but in
only one or two sentences). Then tell the whole story in the
first paragraph. Then tell the whole story in the rest of the
page. Each time you create interest and add significant detail.
Sympathize with the readers who want to know very early
in their search whether or not this page is worth
pursuing. Resist the temptation to keep them hanging (or to
discourage them too early). It is a delicate balance, but
definitely worth cultivating.
Use lots of nested headings, and put them all in the Table
of Contents. If you do it right, some readers can get the
overview they want by just reading your Table of Contents.
"How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and
Subject Lines," by Jakob
Nielsen (web design and usability guru) explains that
table of contents headings, titles and e-mail subject lines
"need to be pearls of clarity: you get 40-60 characters to
explain your macrocontent. Unless the title or subject make
it absolutely clear what the page or email is about, users
will never open it." On-line headings are different from
print headings because they are often displayed
out-of-context, such as in lists of articles, results from a
search query, in-box lists, etc., says Nielsen. Considering
a headline on the sports page of a newspaper, for example, a
great deal can be inferred at a glance from that context.
Not so in many on-line situations (most of which are not of
the author's making, incidentally). Many experienced e-mail
users have so much mail, they delete messages if they cannot
immediately recognize and make sense of them. Keep
information content to the left, less important content to
the right (in case it is truncated somewhere).
Keep in mind also that your page may be read by persons with
completely different cultural and educational backgrounds from
yours. Some idioms may be confusing, or even insulting to some
readers, for example. When portions of your page are copied by
those who did not understand them, the content may be praised or
panned; and you may even be held up to ridicule in some
circumstances (sometimes without a hint of justification).
Occasionally information is copied to forums that you do not
even know about, and with comments which you will never have the
opportunity to rebut. And all of that will affect the City's
image too. The point here is that careful planning of document
content is essential to successful web publishing.
Consider writing for a reading age about the end of
elementary school or early Junior High school. Provide
definitions for new terms; and provide a table of contents and
other internal navigation links
that allow advanced readers to by-pass the introductory
Experienced users have learned to scan web pages,
rather than read them. In the first instance they are often very
busy, and are looking for an answer to a specific question. And
in the second instance, they are looking for credibility before
they take anything you say very seriously.
Using bold or italics or other changes in
type faces will help them to see the significant information on
your pages quickly.
Lots of scanners use the first few words of a paragraph to
decide whether to read the remainder. Therefore, you need to
keep your paragraphs to a single idea, and you need to make that
first sentence accurate, starting with key words.
Suppress the impulse to write only the point-form
overview of your paper, however. Include it at the top, for
sure. But you are catering to the reader who scans in part to
let him know that you are a credible source of sound
information. If you never get to the "whole story" of your
paper, you leave the reader with the impression that it was
superficial or weak. Is that the impression you wanted to
Later still, Jakob Nielsen's page "Writing Style for Print vs. Web"
(June 2008) covers Linear vs. non-linear; Author-driven
vs. reader-driven; Storytelling vs. ruthless
pursuit of actionable content; Anecdotal examples vs.
comprehensive data; and Sentences vs. fragments.
Linking and Navigation:
(within the page, and to/from other pages):
Put a good Table of Contents on every page as one of your
consistent standards. Then provide a link back to it from the
bottom of every section within the page. In this way, the casual
reader can click on a topic, skim over it, and find a link at
the bottom of the section to get back to the Table of Contents
(in order to quickly pick out his next topic of interest).
Spend as much time as you can with your Table of Contents
(mainly when you do the outline for your page content). An
important point here is to group similar topics together,
especially the sub-topics. Then describe each sub-topic
completely. By grouping, you provide the reader with the
ability to discriminate between similar links. Usability
studies have shown this to be a significant aid to readers.
Apparently, (less-relevant) link rejection is at least as
important as (relevant) link selection.
Use lots of headings, and include them all in the Table of
Contents (TOC) for the page.
Provide links from the TOC to every heading. And put enough
information in the TOC entry so that the reader can make a
reliable decision if s/he wants to go there or not.
Provide Next/Previous links at every heading if you can
manage it at all.
Since some browsers do not handle "Back" within a page
(rather they transfer back to the previous page), provide a
link back to the TOC and to the bottom of the page with every
heading if you can manage it at all. But the links to
next/prior need to be at the top, near the heading, not at the
bottom. If they are near the heading, then they will always be
positioned in the same place whenever the surfer clicks. S/he
can just leave the mouse in one place, and click his/her way
through the headings, reading the first few lines of each
introductory paragraph. If you have written like a good Journalist,
s/he gets a good impression from the first sentence of each
subject with no scrolling whatever. [Give yourself a red
Use plenty of
links to all the related City pages, both ways. It is hard to
overdo convenient links. Remember that linking between pages is
the essence of the World-Wide Web. The best page in the
world is weak if it is not linked in its context with its
related subject matter.
This linking of your new pages to the related matter in
existing pages is time-consuming, but is perhaps the most
worthwhile aspect of new page development. Take time also to
go to your existing pages, and provide links to the new one. You
know the subject matter of your website better than anybody
One of the best services you can provide to your visitors
is to give them the option of seeing the "whole related story"
from the point of view of the author. It is a service they
cannot obtain from any other source; and it will add value
to our website like nothing else we can do.
Remember, you never know how a visitor got to your page.
He/she may have been referred by a friend, and may not want
the detail on your page at all. Rather s/he may have come in
the hope of finding something related to the content
on your page. If you don't provide the links to related
material, then it's been no help at all for that visitor.
Linked documents are much more efficient to access
than un- linked documents, even if the related material is
nearby. Take the time to add links, even if it is only for the
improved efficiency you afford to your readers. In government,
we need to take advantage of these efficiencies in everything
we do, both to reduce costs of government, and to help our
constituents get what they need quickly.
Remember too, that there are at least three different
"levels" of links you need to consider: (a) overall
document cross-references to other related documents and web
pages, (b) sentence and phrase cross-references for
narrower and more specific concepts and ideas [both
contrasting and supporting], and to places where implications
and risks (usually beyond the scope of your article) may be
found, and (c) individual word links to definitions,
expansions of acronyms, etc. These links make a document far
more helpful than merely publishing it by itself. By
linking it to the other relevant material, to other ideas and
to definitions and tutorials (especially for those unfamiliar
with the subject matter), you transform what would otherwise
be "just another paper" (emphasis on the old sterile,
stand-alone "paper" model) into some sort of a living entity
that helps your reader in real time to answer the question of
the moment. Each reader follows only the links that s/he needs
to follow; but the complete story is there, if needed, in the
links. Posting a batch of WORD documents, for example, even
with a good index and descriptive titles, is just another
old-world bulletin board. And it pales in contrast to the same
series of documents, posted as web pages with all the internal
linkages needed for complete comprehension and understanding.
Avoid using underscore for emphasis. Use bold or italics
instead. Better yet: use heading level 4, 5 or 6--that
defines the structure of what you want, rather than its
format. Remember that links are usually underscored.
Readers will wonder what is wrong with your link if you use an
underscore otherwise as part of the text.
Keep in mind that you never know where the reader will
point his/her bookmarks/favorites (hence, where s/he will
start reading your page, or suggest it to others). You
may have made a point (or issued a warning) in the last section
that would suffice if the reader had seen it. If the current
section has a heading (and an internal bookmark), then the
reader could have come directly to the current section from the
TOC or via his/her own bookmark/favorite. If the warning is
pertinent in this section, re-issue it, or (better) provide a
link to it.
Internal MS WORD Bookmarks:
Be sure each page has a WORD bookmark called "Top" at the
left of the heading line, or other first line of the page.
This bookmark needs to be added to the file name of any
link in which we want to transfer the reader to the TOP of the
Keep in mind that a bookmark, once defined, may be used in
any link to the file from anywhere, including people outside
the City. If you move it, or change the spelling (or the
case of any character), then all the links that
referred to that bookmark will either fail to find the new
bookmark, or (if you moved it) take the person to the "wrong"
place. The solution here is to keep old bookmarks forever.
Add new ones as needed. New ones can be put in the same
place as old ones; but by also keeping the old ones you
maintain the integrity of other people's references to your
WARNING: If the user has viewed a page, and subsequently
gone to another page, and then returns via a link to any page
he has viewed previously, the previously-viewed page is
positioned as he had it last unless the most recent
link contained a bookmark.
What this means is that if you have a link to a bookmark in
a page, and the user opts to go there (leaving the page at
some position other than its top), then when another link is
executed to that page without a bookmark, the browser will
display it in the position that the user last saw it. This is
what we want if the user remembers how he got there. He may
actually have in mind to go back right where he was reading.
What it also means, however, is that if he is transferred
somewhere deep down in a page early in his browsing session,
and later returns via some other route in which he expects to
get to the top of the page, he will be very confused if
you do not include the "Top" bookmark in your link.
Therefore, in each link to another page, we need to
determine if we need to transfer the reader to the TOP of the
page. If we do, then we need to include the "Top" bookmark
in the link. That should always be the default, though
many web page editors are not very helpful in that regard.
This whole issue is complicated by the fact that most of
the time, the user will only link to another page once in a
session. In that case, when a new page is fetched for him to
read, the browser will position it at the top of the page by
Leave lots of internal bookmarks all over the place. You do
not know where others will want to point their
bookmarks/favorites in linking to your page. You want to avoid
the case where a site links to your page, and then qualifies
it with "then sift through ... ... until you get to ... ... ."
By leaving a convenient bookmark, s/he can link to your page
right where s/he wants.
The points immediately above augment the importance of
preparing your web pages in a user-driven context. If your web
pages are easy for others to refer to in ways where they can
get right to the point they want to access, they will be seen
to be more useful than otherwise.
Include, on every page, a link back to both the GRAPHICS
version and the TEXT version of the entry page so that visitors
can choose a smaller size if they have a slower line, etc.
Include a see also section at the bottom of pages
which are part of a set, or part of a subject also treated by
others. In this way, the reader has convenient links no only to
your related pages (and their indexes), but those hosted by
In all links, provide some descriptive information in
addition to the links themselves. Give the reader enough
information to make a pretty good decision whether s/he wants to
go there or not. Of course, a long string of
unannotated links is better than no "see also" section; but good
annotations are a part of what distinguishes the high quality
pages we are seeking to post.
Backward Links - As you create a series of web pages, the
useful links that come to mind will be "forward" links (that is,
links from entry or table-of-contents pages to the pages
containing the details and components of the subject you are
describing). Once the pages are established, however, and
particularly as they are linked to and from related pages, you
will need to consider "backward" links also (these are links
back up the chain to more general pages from which the user can
navigate to other detailed or component pages). Since
some subjects require large numbers of pages, it is quite
helpful if you have installed both the forward and backward
links in the shell pages from which many of the pages have been
made. The whole point here is that as you build a set of pages,
you tend to think of accessing and linking them according to the
hierarchy in a top-down way. But in large subjects, many links
and bookmarks will be set to pages at the bottom of that
hierarchy; and readers who arrive via those links will never
have seen the higher-level entry and table-of-contents pages. By
providing links to them in the detailed pages from the outset,
you can save yourself a lot of work down the road. This whole
question is complicated by the fact that large subjects tend to
be expanded as additional components are added after the initial
designs are considered complete. These additional components
need to be added to the original forward links (not too hard), and
also added to the existing detailed pages (the ones which
did not anticipate them). Correspondingly, of course, the new
pages need to link to the existing detailed pages and their
higher-level entry and table-of-contents pages.
(to help foster active participatory government):
The Internet, and especially the World-Wide Web, are interactive
media. Visitors expect to be able to ask questions, make
suggestions, and "talk back" if need be. In government, we need to
be especially attentive to making our pages so that the electorate
can easily and conveniently tell us what they think. After
all, "Uploading Governance" is one of our principal purposes in
mounting an on-line presence.
Use lots of e-mail "mailto:" links. In every authoring
section, as a minimum, identify the person to contact for
further information about page content, the person who
maintains the page, a place they can ask for further general
information about your site (INFO on our pages), and a
place where they can contact the person who maintains the
web site (WEBMASTER on City pages). Every time you
mention a staffer's name, you should include his/her e- mail
address (spelled out in full), and a "mailto:" link for
convenience. In every case that the name has not been tested,
make a test to be certain that the e-mail address is
exactly correct. A "mailto:" link that does not work is quite a
bit worse than nothing at all. Remember, by the time his message
to your "mailto:" link bounces back to him, he will be long gone
from your web page. He may have a very difficult time finding
his way back to look for additional detail, or a correct mailing
address. See also point above on picking pages where you
can tell the whole story.
In every case of a "mailto:" link, include the complete
e-mail address also as a text string. Remember, some browsers do
not have forms capabilities; and you want to make it as
convenient as possible for readers to reach us. By providing the
complete e-mail address as a text string, you permit your reader
to use cut-and-paste to pop it into his mail handler or address
For e-mail contact, departments may wish to create generic
e-mail names rather than using personal ones. An e-mail address
"agendas" may be established by the City Clerk, for example, in
order to make it convenient for people to submit meeting agenda
items. Internally, the e-mail name "agendas" is mapped to the
person currently responsible for agenda preparation. When that
changes, it is a simple one-time change to the maps. If personal
names are used (especially in many places), then a big
maintenance chore is created every time the assigned
responsibilities change. Generic e-mail names are easy and cheap
to create and maintain. But we always have to be careful that
messages to these names are never routed to la-la-land.
When using "mailto:" forms, you can also specify all or part
of the "Subject:" line on the generated message. This can be
very helpful in knowing where cryptic e-mail messengers were
when they sent your department a message. [Believe it or not,
many think you know where they were when they sent you
Always test your web pages (particularly every new link) in
While they are on your hard drive as you prepare them.
When they have been copied to the internal intranet.
When they have been copied to the World-Wide Web server.
Always test your web pages with a text-only browser, and with
at least two different page-widths. This assures that your
presentation will work for at least some of the general cases as
well as for the configuration of your particular desk-top.
Remember: the user controls both the page width and the font
used to display your page. That means he controls the layout.
You only control the structure. It is hard to
overstate the importance of this (sometimes subtle) implication
for new web page developers. See "Writing for the
Information Age" above.
Always enter a "TITLE" line as the first line of the page.
Some Internet search engines examine only the title line of a
web page for key words to enter into their data bases. It is
therefore worthwhile to spend time being sure that the key words
in the title line are comprehensive and contain the synonyms
which surfers may be using in their search criteria. There is a
length limitation on the Title line that may be somewhere around
64 characters in some cases, and up to 512 characters in others.
Use only up to eight character file names, sub-directory
names and directory names; and use only lower-case characters.
This is the combination that allows us to obtain consistent
results with Macs, DOS or Windows and UNIX machines.
Keep the .htm files for all your pages in the same DOS
directory. Include only the lower-order (sub- directory) names
in links subordinate in the tree from that directory. Do not
include any higher-order path components in links (except the
"../" relative designation). When a browser encounters a link
that is missing the high-order components of the pathname, it
uses the pathname of the current directory (the directory in
which the file containing the link was found). This so-called
"relative addressing" is very convenient for moving pages around
in different directories IFF you put only the lower-order
components of the path in the links between pages.
Use only .htm suffixes on HTML files. There is an option to
assume the .html suffix, but it will foul up your testing on a
DOS machine. By using the .htm suffix, you can do all your
testing in a DOS environment, and then transfer the files to the
web server. If the web server is a UNIX machine, the homepage
(only) will need to have an .html suffix. We have overcome this
by just duplicating our homepage.htm as homepage.html. That way,
when a user first arrives at our site, s/he gets the .html
version; but any links back go to the .htm version. All our
internal links stay as .htm's, both on our DOS machines and on
the UNIX machine.
Add the title line to your SEARCH page, and make the entry
(and the link) for the new page there as soon as the page is
posted. Add synonyms and other material to the title line as
appropriate and helpful in the search page (no length limitation
Keep in mind that when you publish a web page, especially on
an internal intranet server, that it will likely migrate to the
World-Wide Web at some point. Initially, it will be for internal
use only; but sooner or later either you (or somebody) will very
likely want to publish that information more widely. If the
other person is very polite, they might ask you to re-write it
for a wider audience. If they are in a hurry or if they are a
novice, they might just copy it the way it is. The point here is
that web pages are akin to e- mail messages (see our caution on
e-mail privacy, and especially the hazards paragraph and the records paragraph)
in many respects. Electronic material is just plain easy to
copy. Sometimes, the ease with which it can be copied causes it
to be transported to places over which you have little control
or even influence. If you just write it as if you were
likely to be quoted, then you can perhaps save yourself some of
the embarrassment which will otherwise result when it becomes a
Notify the appropriate search engines of your new page
whenever you create one. This way, readers searching for the
information you have just published will be aware of it right
Changing and Deleting
(considering the stability of our website):
Keeping old pages has a value you might not have thought
about. Remember, this is a cross-linked medium. You never know
who (or how many) have linked to your page in what they are
presenting. And you never know about, nor do you control the
contents of search engine and catalog data bases or who has
added a link to any of your pages among their
bookmarks/favorites. By keeping your old pages, you help
maintain the integrity of the subject matter you are presenting.
By prominently referring to your updated pages, you provide
convenience for those who want the current information, and by
not deleting your older pages you avoid dead ending your
Web pages on the City's web hosting service will not
generally be deleted once they have been published. Care needs
to be taken when pages are initially selected for publishing
that we have the resources and the commitment to maintain them
thereafter. For pages where resource availability is
questionable, other publishing media should be considered.
Once a file has been installed on the web site, keep that
file name for the page for which it was initially used. If you
must change the file name, keep the old one too, so that search
engine data bases and those with bookmark/favorite pointers to
it will not generate either the error message "page could not be
found" or (worse) some page unrelated to what we previously told
them was there.
As a first step, insert a one-liner at the top of the page
(that will display on the first screen) that says the page has
been moved (and provide a link to the new location).Keep all
the original contents intact. [For some readers and
circumstances, the old one will be just fine; for others, old
information is often better than nothing at all.]
As a second step (at the point where the material on the
page becomes misleading, or confusing), delete the content,
but keep the file name, the titles, all the internal
bookmarks, etc., the note about the move, and the link.
Maintain that indefinitely. The cost is substantially zero;
and it allows people and search engine data bases to keep
their old bookmarks/favorites and links/pointers as long as
In any case, keep all the headings, authoring information,
and navigation links to the HOMEPAGE, etc. This allows the
reader to get back to the home page, for example, so he can
find some of the intermediate links in case they have been
added since s/he made his/her bookmark/favorite.
Nielsen, SunSoft Distinguished Engineer, posts two pages.
One is "Fighting Linkrot" which adds useful
information on this subject, including reasons to pay attention
to both in- bound and out-bound links. The other is "Web Pages Must Live Forever," in which he
points out that "once you have put a page on the Web, you need
to keep it there indefinitely:"
"Other sites may link to your page, so removing it will
cause linkrot and lost business opportunities
as you turn away new users."
"Users may have bookmarked the page because they want to go
directly to a relevant part of your site instead of starting
at the home page every time."
engines are slow in updating their databases, so they
too will lead users astray if you remove pages."
"Old content adds value to your site: some users will
benefit from the old pages, so why not keep serving these
"Any URL that has ever been exposed to the outside world
must continue to bring up something reasonable when people go
to it. Because they will. It is common experience among
webmasters that they keep getting hits on URLs that were put
out of service several years ago."
"Even if you believe that the old page has zero value, the
old URL should be supported and made into a redirect to the
closest related page on the site."
It's a "great way to establish a reputation as a
substantial online service of record."
Guides and Web Page Creation Resources
Flow is the quality that will glue them to your
screens. Make your website "engaging" so your visitor can "go
with the FLOW." FLOW is the word describing what makes time fly
when you are at your keyboard, or what glues a teenager to a
video game for hours on end, from Articles
Internet Marketing by Jim
Sterne, an Internet marketing guru. Also there was an
article entitled "Easy clickings." The section "Foremost, Make
It Engaging," contained the following:
... So what is it about computer games that make them so
beguiling? Why are they so compelling? So captivating? How can
toddlers grow into ripe old age without their hands ever
leaving the Nintendo controller? It's called "flow." It
boils down to the ultra-focused attention achieved when you're
deeply engrossed in an activity. You concentrate so intently
that hours go by unnoticed. When the value of the goal is high
and the challenge of achieving the goal is sufficient to be
intriguing, you are going with the flow. It
conjures up pictures of small children at play, athletes in
the heat of competition, and any teenager glued to a video
game. It also conjures up a picture of an Internet junkie at
two in the morning, unable to extricate himself from the
screen. Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak explain why the
experience is so addicting in "Marketing in Hypermedia
Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations." Only
when consumers perceive that the hypermedia CME
[Computer-Mediated Environments] contains high enough
opportunities for action (or challenges), which are matched
with their own capacities for action (or skills), will flow
potentially occur. This congruence between the control
characteristics of the consumer's skills and the challenges of
network navigation enables the consumer in flow to feel in
control. When flow occurs, the moment itself is enjoyed and
consumers' capabilities are stretched with the likelihood of
learning new skills and increasing self-esteem and personal
complexity. However, ... if network navigation does not
provide for this, then consumers will become either bored
(skills exceed challenges) or anxious (challenges exceed
skills) and either exit the CME, or select a more or less
challenging activity within the CME.
Note: for a broader definition of flow in
this context, see Flow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say
"ME-high CHICK-sent-me-high-ee") "who has devoted his life's
work to the study of what makes people truly happy, satisfied
and fulfilled." He learned "that what makes experience
genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow -
a state of concentration so completely focused that it amounts
to absolute absorption in an activity." His notions of flow
have "inspired the creation of experimental school curricula,
the training of business executives, and the design of leisure
products and services. [They are] also being used to generate
ideas and practices in clinical psychotherapy, the
rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, the organization of
activities in retirement homes, occupational therapy with the
handicapped, and the design of websites and museum exhibits."
Nancy Levy's coaching paper on the phrases "in the flow" or
"in the zone" contains descriptions from athletes who have
experienced this state of mind during sporting contests. Levy
lists the following characteristics of the "flow" state:
Delightful coincidences occur - Some people call them
Work cannot be distinguished from play.
Whatever you are working on is effortless - it is
unfolding in front of you.
You lose track of time; time is not an issue.
You feel energized.
You're very clear about your intent although you may not
be clear how you will achieve it.
Everything works effortlessly.
Nielsen, who writes Alertbox
and other Internet Usability articles and books, offers a number
of thoughtful suggestions, backed up by his usability studies.
You can subscribe to his free Alertbox E-Mail Newsletter (no
registration; no ads or spam; links to his stable
website; reliable information).
The Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media (C/AIM)
posts an excellent style manual, the Yale C/AIM Web Style Guidewhich
comfortingly states, "the basic elements of a [web] document
aren't complicated, and have almost nothing to do with Internet
technology." This link was suggested by the Scout Report
(29 May 1998, Vol 5, Number 5). The style guide is also
available via anonymous FTP and as a PDF document at the above
address. This is an excellent dissertation on all the elements
of style, page composition, graphic design, etc. Their section "Typography I - Visual contrast and page design"
makes an interesting point that "Legibility depends on the tops
of words" (scroll to near bottom of page). They show two
fragments of a heading: one containing the top half of the
words, and the other containing the bottom half of the same
words. It casts some interesting light on the use of initial
caps and all caps in headings.
The Treasury Board of Canada has posted a "Common Look and Feel (CLF)" initiative
which contains an excellent set of standards and guidelines for
Government of Canada websites. Initiated in June of 2000,
implementation is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2002.
The earlier Government of Canada Internet Guide
contains helpful sections for departments planning and setting
up an Internet presence. The guide contains lots of rationale
and general principles which would apply to any Internet
CNET Builder.com posts a website
[cookies (cookie caution)] with tools, articles,
suggestions, news, etc., for website builders.
Links to websites with advice for publishing web information
and training pages, according to survey respondents on a web
training mailing list. The question was: "Please list any World
Wide Web sites or other resources that you are aware of that
address visual issues for the design of WWW information and
Web: Guide to Web usability resources. "The ultimate
comprehensive collection of useful links" - Jakob Nielsen.
Current Issues in Web Usability A Bi- weekly column by Dr.
Jakob Nielsen, Principal, Nielsen Norman Group. This is an
excellent source of website design principles and precepts
aimed at good web usability.
Web Design Guide - The WDG's reference
section offers background information and technical
specifications on HTML authoring. Its main purpose is not to
provide browser-specific "hacks", or workarounds for browser
bugs or limitations, but to give the correct way to do it.
Page Design for Designers - This page is aimed at people
who are already involved with design and typography for
conventional print and want to explore the possibilities of
this new electronic medium. They are probably already using
page layout tools like QuarkXPress, Photoshop, Freehand and
Illustrator and have discovered that designing web pages is
something quite different.
With respect to low vision or vision impairment, here are some
sources of more general information that could be considered
when preparing web pages for those visitors or otherwise.
Childproofing Your Home for a Child with Vision Impairment
Title: The Meek Family Website - Web Page
Style Standards; Writing for the Information Age.Contact for further information about this
Meek. Voice: 780+433-6577;E-mail:
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