The Narrative Web
• What are the components which go towards creating the
• Whose story are you telling? Your company, yourself, your
• How can a website engage its audience/community and tell
"our" story? ie The Age "If it matters to you it matters to us"
• What story does www.crikey.com.au tell?
Tagline: Telling you what they won't
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"Comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ckups"
• American versus British/Australian English
Spelling: color vs. colour, behavior vs. behaviour, theater vs. theatre.
Terminology: truck vs. lorry, cart vs. trolley, two weeks vs. a fortnight.
Concepts: what is football anyway — American football, soccer, or (for the truly brave)
Slang: do you call this sport "footie"?
Abbreviations: do readers know that PA=Pennsylvania? Not if they're outside the U.S.
Web editing 101
• Longform versus shortform
o Jakob Neilson's Alertbox (usability blog)
Reading benefits vary, depending on user circumstances.
Most of the time, short articles contain more value per word.
People sometimes gain higher value from complete or very detailed
information about a problem.
If you want many readers, focus on short and scannable content. This
is a good strategy for advertising-driven sites or sites that sell impulse
If you want people who really need a solution, focus
on comprehensive coverage. This is a good strategy if you sell highly
targeted solutions to complicated problems.
• But the very best content strategy is one that mirrors the
users' mixed diet. There's no reason to limit yourself to
only one content type. It's possible to have short overviews
for the majority of users and to supplement them with in-
depth coverage and white papers for those few users who
need to know more.
Hypertext to the Rescue...
• On the Web, you can offer both short and long treatments
within a single hyperspace. Start with overviews and short,
simplified pages. Then link to long, in-depth coverage on
• With this approach, you can serve both types of users (or
Writing for web versus writing for print
• Compare the print edition of today's Age with theage.com.au
and make a list of differences you spot.
• Jakob Neilson's Alertbox - Writing style for print versus web
o On the Web, users are engaged and want to go
places and get things done. The Web is
o While watching TV, viewers want to be
entertained. They are in relaxation mode and
vegging out; they don't want to make choices. TV
is a passive medium.
How little do users read?
• "On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words
during an average visit; 20% is more likely."
• Obviously, users tend to spend more time on pages with more information.
However, the best-fit formula tells us that they spend only 4.4 seconds more for
each additional 100 words.
• Top most used features on the web:
1.Clicking hypertext links
• Clicking buttons on the page (ie applications and feature-
rich Web pages that require users to click page buttons to
access their functionality)
• The "Back" button
The fickle web reader
• NYT headline: "Coping With the Tall Traveler's Curse"
• Why is this a bad headline for web:
o no "information carrying content" in first three words -
readers often scan and won't even get to the end of the
headline if it doesn't grab their attention
o SEO friendly headlines - what search terms would
someone type into a search engine to find your article?
o headline not specific enough to sell the story (in print
version, there was a photo of a tall, cramped traveller to
• Web readers don't read from start to finish. They jump
around, and skim read
o Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content
area. This initial element forms the F's top bar.
o Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal
movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional
element forms the F's lower bar.
o Finally, users scan the content's left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly
slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other
times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F's stem.
Source: Nielsen "F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content"
Write and edit for the scanning reader
o bulleted lists
o highlighted keywords
o short paragraphs
o the inverted pyramid
o a simple writing style, and
o de-fluffed language devoid of marketese.
(Source: Nielsen's Top 10 mistakes in web design)
The selective web reader
• Web readers quickly learn to ignore advertising elements, or
content which resembles advertising
o banner blindness
o animation avoidance
o popup purges
o ad blockers
(Source: Neilsen Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design
• Eyetracking studies show that readers skip around the page
and habitually only skim
• The importance of permanence
When long form features work...
• Click through multiple pages of a feature - means each page
isn't an overwhelming slab of text, and you can check
analytics to see how many people read to the last page.
• Using design & layout to make a longer form piece enticing
to read -
o What tricks do they use to make it easy to read?