Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: Writing for the Internet

Author: Jane Dorner, Publsiher: Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0-19-866285-8

The book is divided into two parts: A and B. Part B is a quick summary of all the key ideas covered in part A. I liked that each chapter has its own contents list, which makes it a lot easier to jump to specific topics. Each page has a column allotted for an extra explanation of a topic or word, a summary of main points in the page, pointers, or quotes.

Introduction: The chapter explains briefly what Internet is about and how this book can help a reader understand what goes into it. I liked the section Reading routes where it explains to readers in a matrix format, how they can proceed in choosing topics based on what their role is or what they are looking for to achieve their goal. An explanation on various traditional roles in a non-Internet world and how they may merge when it comes to writing for the Internet is also useful to understand all that is involved for such a task.

Communicating online: The chapter introduces writing for Internet as a 'new art'. It explains the use of tone-of-voice and the practicality of emoticons for emails and gives few pointers on netiquette. I felt that the topics The Internet and the Web and Dominance of the Web should have been in the Introduction chapter rather than appearing so late into the book; these topics after emails and netiquette from my view didn't seem to fit here. Other topics include style, voice and readability. How technologies affect writing style on the right column of the Your Style topic gives a funny progressive view of how writing changed from the day of stone tablets to present day.

Internet publishing: The chapter talks about copyright, royalties and fees. A good foresight, having recently seen the strike by Writers' Guild of America. Some notable points were found in the point-wise explanation of differences between paper pages and web pages. I think that the acronyms created for BOOK and WEB are intuitive.

BOOK = Bound Optimally Ordered Knowledge

WEB = World Enabled Business

Considering purpose: The chapter explains about the various factors that need to be considered before creating a web page or a site. It emphasizes on the goals and benefits. I liked the four Ws concept (I prefer to remember it this way) or as the author states it, the Who-What-When-Where quartet. Other topics are Content, Audience, and Profile.

Planning: The chapter discusses the steps involved in any writing process i.e. the idea, the planning stage, the draft, and the editing. The planning here involves more with arranging web pages. The design and layout is explained further with topics such as page widths, page lengths, scrolling, etc. Also shedding light on collaborative writing and hints on the usefulness of having a file or a version control system when working in a team.

Good web writing: The chapter deals with some aspects of actual writing with elements related to a web page such as the use of white spaces, chunks, headings, and lists. Mostly has a list of do's and don'ts of word processing. I did learn something interesting in the section where the author talks about some types of writing such as the tadpole and the party game. At the end, it summarizes all that would work well for writing a web page. It is one of the three core chapters along with 4 and 6.

Web nuts and bolts: editing: The chapter emphasizes the importance of editing by a fresh set of eyes. It has pitfall topics such as dangling phrases, ambiguity, redundancy, unnecessary words, etc. A note on how punctuation actually appears on the web is provided.

The last two chapters Web genres and Keeping readers discuss various types of websites and what one can do to keep a reader engaged to a website. Shows some examples of a personal home page and a small company page.

In conclusion, I think that this is a reference book and has an easy to read format. If you are a writer solely doing the content and are in many ways not involved in the design and layout aspect of a web page, then you can skip a lot reading and jump into chapters 5 and 6 and Part B. But, on the other hand if you are someone who's planning to do some web design, layout, and writing then there's lot of helpful information available. Core chapters for this book are 4, 5, and 6. They deal with planning, writing, and editing.

All through the book, explanations are backed by charts and diagrams for additional support as needed; and it has few funny cartoons to keep it a light read. As suggested, the book does not deal with technical content except for some basic HTML code snippets and assumes that the reader is familiar with Internet in the sense that he or she has been online more than once and can navigate web pages.

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