Journal: News & Comment

Monday, March 22, 2004
# 9:41:00 AM:

How to edit print text for the Web

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Crawford Kilian tries to show how print text can be rewritten for the Web, noting that "standard print relies on reader habits that don't transfer to the computer screen. We really do read differently in this medium. Web text should exploit the difference."

His advice parallels much of what I've said—but, I realize now, not written down here—in my occasional seminars about web writing and editing. That is:

  1. As much as you can, organize text into chunks that fit on a single screen at a time as readers scroll down the page.

  2. Paragraphs should be no more than five or six lines, and sentences 20 words or less—much shorter than their print equivalents—with around 10 words per line (if you wish to control line length, that is).

  3. Use subheadings, itemized lists, boldface emphasis, and whitespace to give strong visual cues about the flow of material.

  4. Cut ruthlessly, reducing word count by as much as 50%.

  5. Avoid transitional words like therefore, moreover, and secondly, and use the structure of your document to move the flow instead.

  6. Use links liberally, and build documents with reader responses and inbound links in mind.

  7. When you have control over the design of the page, choose readable colours and fonts that are appropriate for your audience and topic.

  8. Include relevant illustrations or graphics to help make the document scannable and to augment the text.

Kilian provides a long-form web post, short "chunked" version, and downloadable Word document of his article to illustrate the differences.

If I can obtain permission from the original author, I'd like to try the same with this long article I found some months ago. In my talks, I use it as an example of what Kilian (rather caustically) calls "shovelware," or print-style writing published directly to the Web, without being edited for this medium.

Of course, it may have been written for the Web originally, but if so, it is an example of intending to write for one medium (Web) while actually writing for another (print).

[UPDATE: Dr. King has given me permission to edit the article into a more web-appropriate style (and yes, it was originally intended for a print publication). I'll probably take a few weeks before I finish it, given my time constraints, but I will post an edited version and blow-by-blow as soon as I can.]


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