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Preview: Writing for the Web

Writing for the Web

The blog of Writing for the Web 4th edition

Published: 2016-11-01T16:17:41-07:00


How the web became unreadable


A long-overdue polemic by Kevin Marks in Backchannel: How the Web Became Unreadable. Excerpt: It’s been getting harder for me to read things on my phone and my laptop. I’ve caught myself squinting and holding the screen closer to my face. I’ve worried that my eyesight is starting to go. These hurdles have made me grumpier over time, but what pushed me over the edge was when Google’s App Engine...

How to be a better online reader


Via The New Yorker, an excellent article by Maria Konnikova: How to Be a Better Online Reader. Excerpt: Certainly, as we turn to online reading, the physiology of the reading process itself shifts; we don’t read the same way online as we do on paper. Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at the University of Stavanger, in Norway, points out that reading is...

An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web


Via The Guardian: An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web. Excerpt: The inventor of the world wide web believes an online "Magna Carta" is needed to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide. Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the Guardian the web had come under increasing attack from governments and corporate influence and that new rules...

The typefaces of 2001: A Space Odyssey


Via the blog Typeset in the Future: 2001: A Space Odyssey. The opening paragraph: 2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi masterpiece – seems an appropriate place to start a blog about typography in sci-fi. Amongst other delights, it offers a zero-gravity toilet, emergency resuscitations, exploding bolts, and product placement aplenty. It’s also the Ur Example of Eurostile Bold Extended’s regular appearance in spacecraft user interfaces. This is...

How fast is your internet?


Via Net Index: Household Download Index. the introduction: Based on millions of recent test results from, this index compares and ranks consumer download speeds around the globe. The value is the rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles. And we learn that Hong Kong, at 70.16 Mbps, whips the rest of...

Against 'Long-Form Journalism'


Via The Atlantic, James Bennet raises good points for webwriters of all kinds, not just journalists: Against 'Long-Form Journalism'. Excerpt: And, in the digital age, making a virtue of mere length sends the wrong message to writers as well as readers. For when you don’t have to print words on pages and then bundle the pages together and stick postage stamps on the result, you slip some of the constraints...

China: Two million 'internet opinion analysts' employed to monitor China's vast online population


Via South China Morning Post: Two million 'internet opinion analysts' employed to monitor China's vast online population. Excerpt: Some two million people are employed by the Chinese government at all levels, as well as businesses, to monitor public opinion on Chinese social media, according to a report in Thursday’s Beijing News. By trawling through blogs, microblog posts and social networks, these "Internet opinion analysts," most of them government employees, dissect...

‘Free My Internet’: Hundreds march in Singapore against website licensing regime


Via RT News: ‘Free My Internet’: Hundreds march in Singapore against website licensing regime. Excerpt: In Singapore, up to 2,000 activists led by local bloggers staged a rally against recently introduced licensing rules for news websites, including breaches of “racial or religious harmony”, which protesters see as an attack on freedom of expression. A crowd with posters denouncing “internet censorship” gathered on Saturday in Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park...

Composition 101: A. Lincoln, Instructor


Via The Columbia Journalism Review: Composition 101: A. Lincoln, Instructor. After using the impending Oscars as a news peg, Kevin Coyne writes: Writing is thinking, and if you don’t think clearly about what you want to say, what story you want to tell, you will never write clearly about it. Clarity - of thought, of purpose, of expression - is the cardinal virtue of good writing, and it shines abundantly...

What Twitter really looks like


Via The, Megan Garber shows us What Twitter Really Looks Like. Excerpt: I just watched the West Coast wake up. On Twitter. I did it by watching the lights come on on Tweetping, which visualizes Twitter activity in real time, on a global scale. When I looked at the site earlier this morning, the left half of North America was largely dark. I returned a little later, though, and...

How to verify information from tweets: Check it out


Via The Buttry Diary, Steve Buttry tells us How to verify information from tweets: Check it out. This is a very helpful guide for anyone doing journalism or advocacy online. Excerpt: Journalists should treat information we gather on social media the same way we treat information gathered any other way, or an assurance from Mom that she loves you: Check it out. My #twutorial series hasn’t been updated since late...

2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web


Thanks to Jay Rosen for tweeting the link to this amazing item. Via McGarr Solicitors, an Irish law firm: 2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web. Excerpt: This is not a joke. I have started with that clarification, because as you read this you will find yourself asking “Is this some kind of a joke?” I thought I would be helpful and put the answer right up...

Why are so many news sites still so unreadable? A few of the best and worst


Via, Hamish McKenzie writes: Why are so many news sites still so unreadable? A few of the best and worst. This is a long-overdue protest. Excerpt: A few years ago, the resolution on our monitors wasn’t good enough to make big text look great, unflickery, and unpixellated on screen. And so, many news and magazines merely transposed their way of thinking from their offline worlds into the online environment:...

"Snow Fall": Another opinion


Via Snow Fall: Finally an articulation for the digerati of what a big, expensive newsroom can do. Excerpt: The future of journalism is about speed, volume, rough and tumble and– like the tech world– “good enough” iteration. Even blogs like ours that produce comparatively less, with editing and illustration and reporting still move at a rapid pace compared to the old media world. Every story we do could have...

"Snow Fall": Is this the new long form of webwriting?


I have just read, watched, and listened to John Branch's Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek published by The New York Times. Anyone who writes long text for the web needs to become familiar with it, and to study how it was put together. The text is core, and brilliantly suited to the medium: short sentences, short paragraphs, displayed in short lines. Inset in the margin are photos and...

Le Blog de Jean-Paul Sartre


You really need to have grown up when Sartre was in full cry to appreciate it, but this New Yorker piece is still pretty funny: Jean-Paul Sartre's Blog. The first post: Saturday, 11 July, 1959: 2:07 A.M. I am awake and alone at 2 A.M. There must be a God. There cannot be a God. I will start a blog.

Medicine in the Media 2012


Thanks to Maryn McKenna for tweeting the link to this. Via Tumblr, Scott Hensley of NPR's Shots blog offers a 24-page presentation on writing for the web, delivered at Medicine in the Media 2012. While he focuses on medical reporting, much of what he says applies to webwriting in general.

Website pagination: Stories should load into a single page every time


Via, an argument by Farhad Manjoo: Website pagination: Stories should load into a single page every time. I concur. Excerpt: Slate’s editorial guidelines call for articles to be split into multiple pages once they hit the 1,000-word mark, so I have to keep this brief: Splitting articles and photo galleries into multiple pages is evil. It should stop. Pagination is one of the worst design and usability sins on...

Nielsen on HD computer screens and their typographical implications


Back in July, Jakob Nielsen posted a good item in his Alertbox about Serif vs. Sans-Serif Fonts for HD Screens. Before he actually got into the discussion about fonts, he wrote: Not only are computer screens getting bigger, they're also finally getting better — which might be more important. In June 2012, Apple introduced the first mainstream computer with a high-definition screen: the MacBook Pro with a resolution of 2880×1800...

Twitter study: Hashtags and URLs can double engagement


Via Poynter: Twitter study: Hashtags and URLs can double engagement. Excerpt:Twitter’s research into how journalists can best grow their followings uses data to confirm what you’ve probably been told at a dozen social media seminars: Be a firehose of information about your beat, use hashtags and @ mentions as much as you can, and share what you’re reading. Twitter will announce the findings, which follow a six-month study of 150...

How news organizations are taking advantage of the latest iPad’s features


Via Poynter, a long, informative piece: How news organizations are taking advantage of the latest iPad’s features. This brings up two crucial issues for webwriters: Text has printlike clarity and readability on a Retina Display screen, but sites not updated look worse than ever. Excerpt: Non-updated text is distracting and hard to read on the new iPad. It’s a bit like watching standard definition content on a high-definition TV. Just...

Nielsen: iPad text resolution improves usability


I've been wondering what Jakob Nielsen would say about the new iPad, and now I know. Via Nielsen Norman Group: iPad 3 Changing Use Patterns. Click through for the complete post and links. Excerpt: The new iPad 3's crisper screen will lead to increased tablet use, particularly when reading content. •iPad 3 is the first broad-market computer with a good display, meaning that it's currently the only computer that makes...

Webwriting with addictive technology


The Tyee has published my article Bad Apple. Excerpt: Teaching in Capilano College's Mac-based Infotech program even before the web, I could see that we write and read differently on the computer screen. The medium really is the message online, and the message is jolts. Jolts are the little sensory rewards the computer gives us. They come when we turn on the machine and it bongs at us. Jolts come...

Obama: "My message is simple"—but is it simplistic?


Via Smart Politics: "My Message is Simple": Obama's SOTU Written at 8th Grade Level for Third Straight Year. Excerpt: For the third consecutive State of the Union Address, Barack Obama spoke in clear, plain terms. And for the third straight Address, the President's speech was written at an eighth-grade level. In Obama's own words: "My message is simple." But was it too simplistic? A Smart Politics study of the 70...

Some supplementary materials for my book


I should have re-posted these materials after the last reorganization of this site (and the site needs another update soon!). In any case, here they are. They include a PowerPoint slide show, some PDFs, and several Word files. Download Exercise on Education Download Exercise on Teaching Download Exercise Work Habits Download Towards An Interactive School (PDF) Download W4WLinksList Download Webwriting Download Webedit01 (PDF) Download Webedit02 (PDF)