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Developing Online Content: the Principles of Writing and Editing for the Web.

Irene Hammerich and Claire Harrison. 2002. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 0-471-14611-0. 384 pages, including index. $39.99 USD (softcover).]

As a communicator anticipating additional assignments in developing online content, I selected this book as a source that might be a good reference and guide. Its success depends to a large extent on your experience level.

Unfortunately, I found the book begins rather slowly in Chapter 1 as Hammerich and Harrison attempt to familiarize you with the terminology used throughout the book. If you're already a communicator, the overview material lessens the spark of the book. But an excellent summary of the tasks involved in Web writing and editing appears at the end of the first chapter (p. 26).

The pace picks up in Chapter 2, which focuses on defining the audience. This is especially important in the Web environment considering there may be users with disabilities, such as color blindness that can affect one's ability to read colored text on the screen. The authors also point out cultural interpretations of colors; for example, red is the most popular color in Thailand, but in any African countries, red represents death. A nice checklist--"Who's the audience?"--is included (p. 46).

The authors propose using mind mapping when you organize a Web site. Because I find visuals helpful, I often use mind mapping when I brainstorm a topic and was pleased to see that this method was included. The authors take a mind map example about a Sherlock Holmes Web site and continue the example through the development of the site structure.

Once you have determined the site structure, you can begin the writing. Chapter 4 focuses on the four elements of high-quality Web content: credibility, clarity, conciseness, and coherence. The table "Tips to clarity in online writing" summarizes important points for writing for Web sites.

Next, the authors provide an interesting description of the visual element of Web site development. They posit two types of images, demand and offer. In the demand image, the participant looks directly at the viewer. However, in the offer image, the participant looks elsewhere, for example, at another participant in the image. This concept is something that I have never consciously considered when viewing Web images, but it has always been apparent to me in print media.

After the visual development come links. The authors include a case study regarding associative links. Visuals and tables effectively illustrate the purpose of the links. For example, Table 6-7 lists the source page, link, destination page, and purpose of the link. Including the purpose of the link helps you ensure that you've accomplished the goal of the link.

Chapter 7 addresses the editorial style guide. Hammerich and Harrison helpfully recommend that you include such visual elements as the color, font, and size of headers, and the color of visited links.

The authors continue with techniques for bringing together content and technology. They suggest, for example, the required plug-ins and players.

A table in Chapter 9 nicely summarizes the content management team and its roles and tasks. These positions include the Web manager, the subject matter expert, the writer and editor, and the Web production team.

If you're planning to get into the business of Web writing and editing, Hammerich and Harrison have included in Chapter 10 a sample checklist for the first meeting with a client (p. 323). In addition, they provide points to consider when you set fees and discuss various billing considerations based on office expenses, administration, marketing, and labor costs.

A nice feature of the book is the resources section at the end of each chapter, which lists books and Web sites. Tables are used well throughout the book, and text boxes in the outer margins of the pages contain key phrases.

I would recommend this book for communicators new to writing for the Web and designing Web sites.

RHONDA LUNEMANN is a senior technical writer with EDS PLM Solutions. She has over 20 years' experience as a software technical writer. During that time, she has written numerous user and administrator manuals, quick-reference guides, and online help modules. She has developed in-house training and given technical presentations.
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Author:Lunemann, Rhonda
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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