Design and Style
Writing documents for the World Wide Web is different from writing for conventional
publications. Old methods of organizing and presenting your information are likely to be
inappropriate in this new, visual, high-speed medium. The key to creating effective Web
documents is to design for the user, organizing your information into simple, task-based
Design for the User
- User-Centered Design
Identify what users come to your Web site for and the communication style that works best
for users. Design to meet their needs.
- Task-Based Organization
Organize information by common tasks (get this week's homework assignments, participate in
a class chat, find out about extra credit opportunities, etc.). Design so that your users
can get or do what they want quickly and easily. Organize and present your information on
the basis of how your users think (not necessarily how you think) in the context of doing
the task. For example, most users would expect a list of events to be presented in
chronological order and a list of staff in alphabetical order, not vice-versa. Each page
should have a clear, simple purpose. At the same time, avoid dividing your content up too
- Conduct User Tests
As you develop your document set, bring in outsiders to test it.
- Write for online presentation
Headings will need to be clearer, text more direct and compact, and each document will
need to stand by itself.
- Clear Headings and Link Texts
Use good "sound byte" headings and link texts that clearly convey meaning. Users
will not follow links if they do not know where they lead.
- Minimum Number of Links Per Page
Keep the number of links in a document to the minimum necessary to achieve the purpose of
Keep your Web pages simple. Complexity hides information.
- Develop a Standard Set of Graphical Elements
Take time to design a coordinated set of high quality graphics to use throughout your
document set. The services of a professional graphics designer can be invaluable in such a
- Develop Standard Page Layouts
Your document set is likely to include several different types of pages, such as a home
page, a topic page, a subtopic page, and a glossary page. Designs for these pages should
be closely related so it is apparent they are part of a set, yet different enough to
provide navigation clues to users.
- Use Headings, Lists, and Horizontal Rules
Use several levels of headings and bulleted and numbered lists to make the organization of
the information visually apparent to the student. For example, rather than presenting a
list of items in a paragraph, break the items out into a bulleted list. Use horizontal
rules to demarcate sections within a document.
Aggressively maintain the focus of your Web site. Extraneous content and links can lead
users off on digressions into the Web that waste their time and create needless support
- Edit and Rewrite
Aggressively polish your text for simplicity, clarity, and relevance.
- Move Secondary Information To Separate Pages or Remove It Entirely
Often secondary information such as glossaries, links to related projects, lengthy
quotations, and examples is valuable, but only on an as-needed basis. Move such
information off the main pages.
- Limit Your Resource List Only to the Links You Recommend
It is easy to build huge lists of links related to a specific topic. The hard work, and
the work most likely to benefit your users, is finding the links that best support the
objectives of your organization.