Remember back in school, when you were told that every paragraph should have at least three sentences?  It should have an introductory or topic sentence, some content, and then a closing sentence.  At first, it was pretty hard to get a good topic sentence.  Sometimes I felt like I’d said everything I had to say right in the first sentence!

As I got older, I grew better at finding introductory sentences, then making sure I didn’t use the exact same structure for every single paragraph opening.  My inner sentences grew less run-on, and my closing sentences sometimes made actual transitions to the next topic.  Long, fat paragraphs began to fill my pages.

It can be very tempting to write full, complete, healthy paragraphs to publish online.  But ease of reading trumps all in our little game of attention.  If your paragraphs are too long, then they create an intimidating block of text.  “Maybe,” your readers think, “someone else can say this in a better way.”  Regardless of how apt your phrasing is, it will never be read when the sentences can’t be found.

Many people have issues with reading text on a screen.  Take a look at this article on copyblogger.com.  There are a lot things to take into consideration when you’re thinking about accessibility.

There are always several parts to a website we can’t change.  We’re not the designers, after all.  But we can help by leaving clear spaces, and using as little text as possible.  Don’t clutter.  Your English teacher is not sitting around the corner, ready to pounce on your errors.  Okay, I take that back, I think my English teacher might be listening in …  But regardless of structural critique, legibility should be your first concern.

I don’t mean you should ignore grammar rules altogether; but I do believe that this medium demands certain allowances that would not be so necessary in printed form.  It’s much harder to put something over the page to keep your place, harder to use a pencil to mark up what you’re reading, harder to stare at the screen for long periods of time.

In fact, I sometimes think that we, as writers, have it easiest.  For ease of editing, copying, and re-publishing, there’s nothing like bits and bytes that can be overwritten.

Think about your readers.  Put yourself on the outside.  When they approach a website you’ve worked on, does the text dismayingly plummet to the bottom of the page and beyond?  How are they supposed to know whether this is where they should be, if it takes so much effort to simply read the summary of services?  There are places where it’s appropriate to be thorough, but in many cases, especially home pages, you should avoid too much explanation.

Be clear.  Be concise.  Be to the point.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 3:21 pm and is filed under Blog, Technicalities. You can leave a comment and follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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