A Project of
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Advice about web writing and editing
Styleguides, personal experiences, tips, and detailed how-to-do-it pages.
We've tried to pick only sites that take the point of view of the writer or editor. Often, the creators are themselves writers, consultants, editors, or a little of all three. Always check the About section to see if you feel the makers have enough street cred for you.
Caution: A lot of the so-called web styleguides just describe how to handle interface elements. Good, but irrelevant for writers and editors. (We've included a few of the best of these over in the section on Information Architecture and Interface Design.)
Suggestions? Comments? Let us know.
|BBC News Styleguide||
A good, clean, easy-to-follow set of guidelines for writers (mostly
journalists). You can hear the debate behind the scenes, and the give and take,
as editors try to rein in writers, and writers push for new ways of saying
what they mean, even if that sometimes leads to, gasp, Americanisms.
Yvette Nielsen does consulting all around Australia and Asia, and she sees
her site as a benchmark for online content. Get her free weekly
newsletter, and browse the free tips on everything from accessibility to
usability. (You have to sign up for the newsletter to get into the full
archive of tips).
From Deloitte, the consulting and research folks, comes this little
utility to spot bull. "BullfighterTM is software that runs in Microsoft
Word and PowerPoint, within Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP. It works a lot
like the spelling and grammar checker in those applications, but focuses
on jargon and readability." Catches you slumping into phrases like "A
value-added, leverageable global knowledge repository." Fun, and well
worth giving to your boss.
Good advice from 1999-2001, when a lot of people were waking up to the fact that, hey, we are creating content for online delivery, and what does that mean? The site is inactive, now, but the articles are still posted. Browse by topic or author. Classics to check out: articles by Crawford Kilian, Ethan Casey (columns about "the online editor"and the "online publisher"), and the articles on themes such as web writing and web content.
If you are a media historian, you may find the articles on money
interesting, but today most of them seem out of date and irrelevant.
Still, thanks to Amy Gahran and Steve Outing for keeping all of these
pieces available. Good challenge for a doctoral dissertation: the entire
archive, as a snapshot of a major forum for writers trying to figure out
what they were doing online, back as the century turned.
An occasional blog aimed at anyone who is creating content for online media, meaning, mostly, the Web, from Amy Gahran. Amy's lively, plugged-in, and fun. Following her, you'll get a sense of the latest controversies in the chaotic world of online content.
Bonus: From the blog, you can get the archives of the old site,
Contentious, with tips and insider insights.
Francois Hubert conducts a thoughtful survey of advice on web writing,
offers his own thoughts on the site, and provides summaries in his
occasional email newsletter. He is becoming the lead theoretician of text
on the Web. A Canadian, he writes in French, with special attention to
handling Americanisms such as "internet," mistakes, and poor usage (with
good before and after examples). His argument: "Les spécialistes de
l'écriture Web doivent inspirer un retour à la lisibilité et à la qualité
des textes dans Internet : caractères noirs sur fond blanc, intérêt et
pertinence du contenu."
An excellent print newsletter, with some recent articles posted on the
web, such as Mindy McAdams on editing links. If you edit, you should
probably subscribe. This journal has been the leader in the field for
years, and they keep finding relevant topics both online and off. For
example, we recently did an article about writing for the tiny screens of
cell phones and PDAs.
Reasonable advice about editing and writing on the Web and a discussion
list for Web editors. Nice site, but the creators have forgotten it since
2001, so topics and links are getting a bit dusty.
|Elements of Style||
Tough, tight, to the point. Here's how to write short, no matter what the
medium. This is the original text by William Strunk, published in 1918,
resuscitated by the Bartleby project at Columbia. Of course, you ought to
go buy the later edition put out by E.B. White, but if you are too cheap
to do that, or if you just want to see what Strunk was saying before the
down-east New Yorker writer took over, take a look. Think of this book as
a good workout for every muscle in your style.
Leslie O'Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick train staff on writing emails. Take
the test called E-Mail Quotient. Read their comments on the before, and
watch the transformation in the Message Makeover. Want to see some good
examples? See the showcase of good writing on sites.
Dan Bricklin, veteran of the software wars, gives practical advice on
business writing on the Web. He's the guy who invented the spreadsheet,
and now he runs Trellix, a company selling software to create and manage
websites. Good Documents is his attempt to help customers write well on
the web. A veteran like Dave Winer and Tim Berners-Lee, Bricklin has seen
a lot of clumsy, disorganized, and poorly thought-out sites. Here he does
his best to clean house.
|Grammar Hall of Shame||
A whole database full of egregious mistakes, outlandish puffery, and
abusage. Tim Hicks also offers his own blog, daffynitions, puns, and
out-takes from Henry Beard's classic, Latin for All Occasions, which
helpfully translates "rara avis" as a lack of rental cars.
|Handbook of E-Zine Publishing||
How to do market research, build quality, set up templates, develop
content, and publish an e-zine. Good detail. And of course they have their
|Introduction to Hypertext Style||
Christopher Daly's advice on writing hypertext, from back in 1998. Key
point: "Good writing comes from having something to say and saying it
well." Although these guidelines focus on hypertext in general, the tips
apply to web writing.
Jean-Luc Doumont teaches engineers how to write well, an astonishing feat.
And he explains navigation in a way that even beginners can follow. These
articles and speeches cover web design, web content, technical writing,
and typography. In PDF you can get short Dutch, English, or French
articles, each elegantly laid out. My favorite: "Is a picture worth a
A review of the Web style guides that had been developed back when the Web
was just discovering its own consciousness, circa 1996. Rupert Berk and
Alaina Kanfer sum up what they saw out there, for the National Center for
Supercomputing Applications. Of historical interest only.
|Online Writing List||
Sign up for this discussion, with daily digests. Follow trends, learn
inside dope, and, maybe, answer some questions from other Web writers.
The hub of the plain-language movement in the U.S A whole site devoted to
making government employees write "user friendly documents.". Gee, back
when I worked at Apple, all of us writers were working to create an
approach we called "user-friendly." These days, the term sounds like
something a bored stewardess might say, during the preflight sermon. But
this site gives government workers the basics of writing simply, directly,
and with a little visual panache. The advice is good, despite the source.
|Plain Language Online Training||
Clear, simple tips on simplifying your language. Eight modules sum it all
|Politics and the English Language||
George Orwell's 1946 essay still stings. If you didn't read this back in
college, do so now. Oh, right, it has nothing to do with the web. Well, a
little. Um, maybe it is still relevant. OK, part of the problem with a lot
of writing on the web is that the writers are still caving into power,
assembling stale images, stirring in pretentious diction, adding
syllables, and achieving, at last, an absolute absence of meaning. The
advice may seem simple, but following it requires a real change in your
point of view. As Orwell says, "These rules sound elementary, and so they
are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown
used to writing in the style now fashionable. " Thanks to the University
of Michigan for making this essay available on the Web.
|Publishers Marketplace Association||
If you're self publishing ebooks, or small print runs of a paper book, you
may want to join this non-profit trade association.
|Quality Web Content||
Rachel McAlpine, a novelist, poet, and web writer, has run workshops on
online writing since 1995. She wrote Web Word Wizardry for Ten Speed
Press. Here, she posts clear, and commonsensical articles about web
writing. Take the quick test to see if your site meets her standards of
|Resources for Writers and Writing Instructors||
Jack Lynch, over at Rutgers, has put together this fairly conservative
list of advice, links to rhetorics, styleguides, . As he says, the page is
terribly disorganized, but there is plenty of good stuff. He rules out
many sites that smell commercial, which limits the usefulness of his list,
but he breaks his rule fairly often, with sites that are partly
educational, and partly a pitch for business.
|Say What You Mean||
What an odd idea! Ron Scheer tells you how. He gives you checklists,
articles, and book reviews, to make sure you keep it simple, usable, and,
oh yes, to the point. You could spend hours here, because he has posted so
many interesting pieces, over the last four years.
|Science Sites Communications||
Merry Bruns writes, edits, organizes content-and teaches classs to
aspiring web writers. Check out the web editor's toolkit for web editing
groups, help in finding a job, a booklist, and articles on a wide range of
topics, from editing complexity for the web, to making money from online
content. Attractive site, and friendly approach. Highly recommended.
David Rogelberg's site has a great e-mail newsletter for professional
writers, particularly those concentrating on high tech subjects such as
computer publishing, training and document creation. David is an agent
representing folks who write computer books. Bias: I worked with David
back when he was our wonderful editor at Hayden, and I have met dozens of
his authors at conferences, all enthusiastic. If you are looking for an
agent, check out the rest of the site.
|Styleguide for Online Hypertext||
From the man who invented the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. Written 1993-1998. Quirky, but pointed. More a collection of pet peeves than a thorough styleguide. Definitely worth a tour.
Shows that in the beginning, web writing was isolated from and ignorant of
earlier forms of online writing (help, CD-ROM, tutorials), and totally
detached from academic theorizing about hypertext.
|The Vocabula Review||
If you like words, you'll bookmark this site, where their slogan is, "A
society is generally as lax as its language." Musings on etymology,
dictionaries, shibboleths, and the degradation of the language.
|Web Content Design||
Advice on writing style, within a site that discusses the design process,
site and page organization, email newsletters, and content plans. Designed
by Mazzie Ballheim as a supplement to a class called Web Content Design
for Writers and Editors. Some tips on careers in content, too.
|Web Economy Bullshit Generator||
verb from the first column, an adjective from the second, and a noun from
the third. Or let the software do it for you, as you mesh dot-com
|Web Editors List||
To discuss Web editing with editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, and
managers. Topics: procedures, style, usability, and content management.
Judy Vorfeld is Ms Web Grammar, and she makes usage questions sound more
fun than Miss Metcalf did. You'll find links to dictionaries, glossaries,
grammar tips, information on idioms. She gives you grammar basics and
tips. Helpful, and inviting, if you need a quick answer, or a link to a
Peter Lynch and Sarah Horton have posted the second edition of this book,
and, sure enough, it reads like a book on screen. The advice is Old Blue-a
bit arrogant, certainly old fashioned, and poorly written. Many managers
like the book because it seems such a put-down of the most interesting
aspects of the Web. I don't like it much. But if you want to see what the
bitching and moaning is about, read what the authors have to say about
text. Then ask yourself: are they even following their own advice?
David Siegel knows what's right, and he will tell you, straight out,
because he knows best. Despite his claim that he is offering tips on
writing, most of the time he is talking about laying out text on a
page-how to handle fonts, background, images. But occasionally he gets
riled up about prose, and rants about the English language in cyberspace,
and spelling errors on the web. Alas, David has not bothered to come up
with a new tip in 5 years, so you won't get cut by the new ideas. Enjoy
for the attitude.
|What is good hypertext writing?||
Jutta Degener's advice from way back in 1998. We like her pages because
she was one of the first to point out the worst offenses of early
hypertexters. For a refreshing splash of cold water, read her glossary of
phrases to avoid (Dangerous Words).
A group for women who are professional tech writers, novelists, fiction
writers, journalists, and poets-both on staff and freelance.
A site devoted to user assistance, within software, and on the Web. Great
resources. Run by an actual writer, Joe Welinske, the site acts as ground
zero for conferences, workshops, and advice about help and web customer
assistance, with salary surveys, articles, and product reviews..
Home of the Internet Writing Journal, with interviews and advice on
writing various genres, occasionally web writing.. Lots of advice for all
kinds of writers, plus lists of paying markets. Brace yourself for all the
ads, and in between them you can find useful information.
|Writing for the Web (Kilian)||
Crawford Kilian's observations about the fast-changing genres of writing
on the Web. He's experimenting with a half dozen blogs, only one of which
concerns web writing, but you may want to check out his notes as he writes
two novels, or struggles with local politics in Vancouver. Born a New
Yorker, he moved via Berkeley to Canada, where he has taught at Capilano
College since 1968. He takes sensible, conservative positions on most
writing, reaches out to the whole world, and reveals himself more by the
topics he chooses to cover than by self-exposure.
|Writing for the Web (Nielsen)||
By usability guru Jakob Nielsen with P. J. Schemenaur and Jonathan Fox at
Sun. Sums up some of the research done in the late 90s at Sun, trying to
show writers how to apply the results. How to write to be found, and read.
Terms to avoid. How to edit a web page. These short takes on Nielsen's
research give you good advice, in a terse styleguide, but lack the
detailed statistics and data that you need when arguing with your team
about titles, headings, introductions, or link text.
If you want to dig into that research, see Nielsen's own archive at http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting.
A networked journal for writers and teachers of writing. A bit academic,
and old fashioned in some areas, but they do have a few good pieces on
hypertext. The editorial board is good, the output somewhat limited. Many
discussion lists do not really exist, and in many topic areas, the editors
have not yet released their debut issues.
|Writing that Works||
Host of the Awards for Publication Excellence, and publisher of a monthly
paper journal about writing techniques, style, usage, and management, with
special sections on online publishing, PR, and marketing. Even if you don't
subscribe to the print version, you can tour the winners of their awards,
and pick up some good tips in the free articles.
Writing that Works!