Tuesday, August 07, 2007
  Writing for screen: Time to rethink?
Two articles I read today raise questions about whether we should rethink writing for screen.

Remember how we learned, slowly and painfully, that writing for screen was different from writing for print? On screen people scan rather than read, so terse writing, bullet points and headings are all desirable. They facilitate scanning... We also learned, first that text is fluid on the web, that everyone's browser is different, and also (paradoxically) that it is really important to make sure the essential stuff gets "above the fold". "Fold" is legacy language, from the world of print newspapers, meaning visible on screen without scrolling.

First, The Interaction Designer's Coffee Break cites Milissa Tarquini "Blasting the Myth of the Fold". She presents strong evidence (from AOL) that users do scroll. Then, she discusses the design considerations that allow us to help them - basically letting them know that they are scrolling for. Actually this post though very sensible and based on good research reorganises stuff we knew and hopefully already practice.Reviving Anorexic Web Writing

Then, in "Reviving Anorexic Web Writing" (on classic web-design blog A List Apart) Whose perceptive and hilarious childhood stories you must read! Amber Simmons argues that if we write well then the scanning rules do not apply. This argument needs more thought.

For a start it is not based on research, rather on some evidence and a lot of gut feeling. Then, while it seems clear her claims are true for some web writing. Her own delightful "stories" are a good case in point, one hardly scans them, rather they are read much as one reads a novel (only they are briefer - vignettes). Evidently also many bibliobloggers finest posts are the long ones that encourage real, deep reflection on a topic.

And yet, if a site basically offers information and/or ideas may it not be better to provide them in easy to scan format? If the writing is not the point might bullet-points and brevity still be good? Even better than finely crafted sentences...

Incidentally, and ironically, the image that accompanied Amber's article somewhat undermined her point. though I am still thinking about it - so this is a partial think I think that some writing is better for finely crafted sentences (the quill pen approach) while other writing is better if it provides a targeted dose of information (the syringe)...

Update: I have adapted this post in the light of Stephen's comment below, putting the asides into boxes. Let me know what you think of this "punctuatuion"...

Incidentally, writing this post has reminded me that I need to think about my punctuation - not all the misplaced commas and missing semi-colons, which I know about, but the bigger question of how I punctuate different sorts of parenthesis. I like parentheses, my thinking is a web of very loosely organised parenthetical material. But I need/want to help the reader distinguish parentheses that introduce a new thought (unconnected) from those that explain, or somehow fill out..,. Maybe I should use () for the interruptions and - - for the explanations...

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