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HomeRants > Web Text = Content + Interface > Your words are virtually there. > Your words appear and disappear.



Onscreen, words act as signs before they become content

Words become meaningful content only occasionally.

Your words appear and disappear in a moment

On the web, the text's lack of stability (now it's here, now it's gone) means that users cannot easily revisit, re-examine, contrast, what you said just a moment ago.

On the Web, words do not stay put, as they do on paper page.

As a visitor moves from one link to another, the pages disappear, and, even with a Back button, people find it difficult to flip back to one page, then forward to another, to compare.

A book page stays put, more accessible than the electronic page, and more open to study.

Little wonder that users often print out important pages, to read the old-fashioned way. As an electronic writer, you are entering a world of dissolving text. You are writing on clouds.


What will the web do to my text? (Full chapter from Hot Text in PDF, 700K, or 12 minutes at 56K)

Onscreen, words act as signs before they become content.

On-screen, the most stable words serve as labels, signs, buttons, directives.

Users constantly complain about running text on the screen, referring to the words there as "verbiage."

As elements of the interface, words become labels, more like street signs than an article. Even when you are communicating complex ideas, difficult operations, or interesting perspectives, and people are actually slowing down to read, they do so within an environment in which words are embedded in buttons.

Most of the time, using the computer, your audience is not made up of readers. They are users.

Words become meaningful content only occasionally.

Words comment on the main event; only occasionally do they become the main event.

Words annotate what goes on the Web, and they influence our opinion of the images, links, and environment. But words are only part of the event, and for many people, they are the least attractive aspect of the experience.

Users who are impatient to "get through" the "verbiage" tend to regard a web page as a hint, rather than a thoughtful expression of ideas, to be weighed seriously. Naturally, people miss subtleties, qualifications, extended riffs, and irony.

Our culture emphasizes speed, and many users just want to "get it" and "get out."

Entering an environment in which words are for clicking, users expect even running text to act, to jump, to communicate in one quick bite. No full course meals: people want a snack they can heat up by pressing buttons on the microwave.

Next: Some of your words are just signposts.

Text stands between us, first as an implement, a part of the interface, affording action.  Only after the user finds the right spot does reading take place, if ever.


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Web Writing that Works!
  2003 Jonathan and Lisa Price
The Communication Circle
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