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Annotated Bibliography 3

Chapter 8: Writing Online Documents in ‘Designing and Writing Online Documentation: Help files to Hypertext’ by William K. Horton.


This chapter offers guidelines to help writers of online documents. Some of these are old guidelines that have taken on an increased importance in the electronic era.

(1) Apply the basics and attend to the differences. To write online documents it is important that we ‘apply with a vengeance the principles of good, clear writing’. (p195) It is also important that we adjust to suit the differences found in the web environment and of the user of this environment.
  • Clear writing is essential. Without clear writing, online documents will fail.
  • Writing online documents is different. ‘It embodies new idioms and requires new rhetorical strategies’. (p196) Account for the differences between the printed and the electronic text.
(2) Use short, simple, familiar words
  • Avoid abstract words. This is to facilitate better and faster comprehension of what you are trying to say. After all, users of the computer do communicate in the same everyday language; don’t put them through the task of learning a new vocabulary altogether!
  • Avoid computer terminology. This will confuse, annoy and frighten them away from you site!
(3) Avoid easily misread words, punctuation, phrases. This is especially so since text that is found on the screen is less legible than the same thing on text.
  • Emphasize small important words
  • Take care with prefixes
  • Avoid Contractions and abbreviations
  • Use only standard, easily read symbols
(4) Speak simply, directly and accurately.
  • Write simple sentences (and active sentences). Make positive assertions; affirmative sentences are easier to process and remember than negative ones. Keep syntax simple. Go from known to unknown.
  • Express ideas precisely. Speak directly to the user; tell them what / (not) to do. State quantities exactly since users expect computers to churn out precise info. Do not make the computer sound human. Write for the literal-minded user. Avoid wisecracks.
(5) Apply a consistent style throughout. Inconsistent language confuses users and destroys confidence in the product. Conventions set by you, the author, will make your document more dependable.
  • Words
  • Grammatical structures. Use simple, imperative sentences for directions and simple, declarative sentences for descriptions.
  • Abbreviations. Use some in words and phrases since space is limited. However if you do abbreviate, use a consistent scheme with which you do this.
  • Spelling
  • Special conventions
(6) Say more with fewer words in less space. Since screen size is less than page size and larger fonts are required for legibility.
  • Eliminate unnecessary material
  • Keep paragraphs short
  • Avoid blind references
  • Do not repeat what the user already knows
  • Omit what is better said elsewhere. Electronically cross-reference online documents, refer to paper documents.
(7) Center on the user and the user’s task.
  • Present ideas in natural order.
  • Emphasize the new, the novel, the surprising
  • Use concrete examples to explain abstract subjects
  • Call things what the user named them
  • Anticipate questions
(8) Design for Jumping in the Middle. No writer can anticipate all the possible ways a user can reach a given topic in an intricately structured online document.
  • Make the subject of a topic immediately clear.
  • Do not assume a beginning, middle and end
  • Summarize at departure points
  • Make transitions clear
  • Present one idea in each topic



        As with the text on ‘what not to do on the web’ this one also presented a concise and easily accessible information on writing in the electronic environment. The headings and sub-headings made reading easier and quicker than huge chunks of text, like some of the other texts that I read earlier.

        With regards to its relevance in the essay, I feel it has very much got to do with what I am writing about. Although some of the points may not pertain directly to the readers of the different environments, there is still validity in what is said. What needs to be done now is to recognize which points are relevant to the readers of the electronic environment and the expectations and tastes that they have so that the writers can write accordingly! And I can also do my essay in accordance!


Annotated Bibliography 1    Annotated Bibliography 2    

Annotated Bibliography 4

Internet Users and Readers of a Printed Text

Writing in the Web Environment