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Overview of our book, Hot Text! Web Writing that Works

New Riders, 512 pp, US$40

Writing for the Web transforms our old ideas of audience, structure, and style. When we immerse ourselves in the Internet, we see concepts that we have inherited from years of writing on paper begin to dissolve.

On the Web, for instance, the audience is no longer just a passive recipient of documents that we publish. Instead, in many cases, the audience starts the communication, asking pointed questions, lodging lengthy complaints, bugging us for a response. 

We can no longer think of ourselves as “authors.” We are instead participants in a conversation, swapping ideas across the Net, exchanging e-mail, Web pages, discussion postings with these other folks, many of whom have better ideas, more experience, and deeper wisdom than we do. What a comedown! And how much more fun! Our relationship becomes more sociable.

In a blitz of flames, rants, and instant messages, this new, active audience suggests topics to discuss, problems to resolve, entertainment they would like to experience. They are guiding the conversation. 

And in response, we can no longer simply dish out entire documents, with the answers buried in there somewhere. Sometimes the answer to a particular question lies in one paragraph-and that is all the person wants to read.

So we are beginning to abandon whole documents, turning our attention to the components that make up those documents-the informative objects within.

 Responding to the demand for pinpoint information while producing content in an object-oriented environment, we must write carefully following a standard organization, so that the software can skim right to the relevant objects, displaying them, and manipulating them at the command of the user. We are learning to think structurally, as we write.

And the way that our text appears on the computer screen constrains the way people perceive, use, interpret, understand, and recall whatever we write. Because the screen resolution is so much worse than that of a printed page, our Web text is harder to read, more difficult to grasp as a whole, more blurry in memory. Visitors to our sites resist reading to the last moment, using text to navigate, postponing actual reading as long as possible, and when they do settle down to read, they often ask for short chunks of prose-abrupt talk. 

To move our ideas through this medium, adapting to the situation in which our text will appear, we adopt a tighter, tougher, and smarter tone. Web style grows naturally out of the electronic medium we use for this extended conversation.

About our book


Table of Contents (PDF, 1 minute at 56k)


In fact, we have organized this information in somewhat that way, to answer the questions you might ask.

Our aim is to help you write Web text that works for your guests. We want a visitor to your site to send you email describing your text in terms like these:


  • “So interesting that I chatted your site up on my favorite listserv.”
  • “I recommended this to my friends.”
  • “Your text is warm to the touch; human. Perhaps even passionate.”


  • “Your ideas really caught my eye.”
  • “Right off, you persuaded me to focus on what you say.”


  • “You encouraged me to move around the site and explore.”
  • “You made me want to click those links.”
  • “With your encouragement, I didn't mind filling out those forms.”
  • “After reading what you said, I just had to buy.”


  • “Your text was especially meaningful to me.”
  • “You seem to be able to relate to my situation.”
  • “You understand my dreams.”
  • “You helped me solve my problem. Thanks.”


  • “This was so great that I couldn't bring myself to click away.”


  • “You've convinced me.”
  • “You get me stirred up, all right.”
  • “You made me get out of my chair and act.”


  • “You gave me tons of great ideas.”
  • “This was the news I needed.”
  • “Heck, your text was an education in itself.”


  • “I felt like you were talking directly to me.”
  • “I felt like we were sharing ideas. You weren't just lecturing me.”
  • “I felt like you really listened to me.”


  • “You provided far more information than you had to. Thanks.”
  • “I appreciate your letting us see your company--warts and all.”
  • “You went way beyond the minimum, to make sure you are really helping a visitor like me.”

People come to your sites for lots of reasons. Some of their motives are downright crazy. Some dreams are impossible for you to fulfill. But, when you care about your guests, you want to help them accomplish their own goals. You know you are succeeding when you get e-mails like these.

Of course, in any job, you want to get your work done quickly, to feel good about what you have accomplished, to earn some money, and learn as you go. You want to get smiles back from coworkers and the boss. You want to feel you are helping your colleagues, sharing what you know, showing respect for them. You want to get along with everyone on your team.

But when writing for strangers on the Web, you have to overcome the tendency to write for your own group, tailoring your output to the team's interests, jargon, and point of view.

And you must deal with the impulse to consider your own problems more important than those of your guests. Thoughts that indicate you are considering your own comfort first include:

  • What is the easiest way to write this?
  • How can I avoid doing any more research?
  • How can I pretend to be friendly, without bothering to think about the guests?

To break out of this kind of self-centeredness, focus on what your guests care about. Adopt that goal whole-heartedly, and your writing will become hot text.

On this site, then, we give you our personal take on what works best when writing on the Web. We draw on the advice of other writers and editors, research from reading experts, recommendations from usability gurus, and even theories from literary scholars. But the book expresses our own point of view.

And we hope you’ll let us know where you see things differently, and where you think we’ve gone wrong, where you see changes taking place. We see what we have written as a part of an extended discussion. At the end of each chapter, we invite you to send us your comments, by posting to the Hot Text list and joining the Web conversation. Like this:

Express your own idea on: HotText@yahoogroups.com 
Subscribe: HotText-subscribe@yahoogroups.com 
Unsubscribe: HotText-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

Let us know what you think.

Lisa and Jonathan Price


Order Hot Text (the book) from Amazon


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Order Hot Text (the book) from Amazon