Newbie Web Author Checklist:
Before you publish that project...

If you've recently created your first website and you're getting ready to publish it, then this page is for you. I've helped hundreds of people create their first websites, and I really enjoy helping them move from their first tentative forays into electronic authorship (see: "Oh my gosh! I am creating web pages!") to more advanced projects.

1) Have you tested your site on someone else's computer?

MS-Front Page makes it notoriously easy for you to create and upload a website that works fine for you but won't work for anyone else. Use someone else's computer to check your site. (See my handouts about FrontPage and Geocities for more details.)

2) Do all your links actually work?

You'd be surprised at how many people skip this step. If you have copied your website to or from a diskette, you may find your links broken -- especially if you used MS-FrontPage.

3) Is your linked text informative?

No To learn about Rainbow Hector, click here.

Visually impaired web users frequently scan web pages by instructing their computer to read aloud all hyperlinks. Sighted readers assess web pages in much the same way.

Since web visitors decide in a matter of seconds whether your page is worth reading, when you choose bland, content-neutral words for your hyperlinks, you miss an important opportunity to communicate.


Somebody tell me, who is Rainbow Hector?

  In this case, the linked words suggest what will be at the other end of the link, which helps the reader decide whether to click.

Another way to make your links informative is to follow them with a blurb.

Blurbs: Writing Previews of Web Pages
A blurb is a short paragraph that previews what's on the other end of a link. You're reading a blurb now. If it helps you decide whether you should click the link, then it has done its job.

Hypertext documents are made up of numerous smaller documents joined together by links. Unlike print pages, web pages can be organized in many different ways. Since you don't know where your reader came from or where your reader is going to go next, simple labels such as "next" or "page 2" are as useless as "click here". Print pages don't need navigation, but web pages do.

Navigation: an often neglected component of web authorship
To make the best use of hypertext, you should not blindly follow the convention of printed, linear text. Instead, divide your content into logical, free-standing units that can be strung together like beads, in different orders.

4) Do all your pages have informative titles?

Is the title at the top of each page informative enough that a visitor can tell at a glance what your page is about, even if they haven't seen any other pages on your site?

No My Home Page
No New Page
Yes Newbie Web Author Checklist: Before you publish that project...

Look at the text in the horizontal stripe at the very top of your browser window. This is the "out-out-of-context title." Does it read "New Page 1"?

Image: "New Page 1"

If so, change it to something more informative. (See: "Titles for Web Pages: In Context and Out of Context")

5) Is your best content prominently displayed?

Minimize barriers (time, space, scrolling, clicking) between your users and your best content.

As a writing teacher, I have a pro-text bias, but I'm not the only one who thinks splash pages are evil. Users who have clicked on a link have already chosen to visit your site... they do not need to be shown a fancy image that tells them "Click Here to Enter!" and they won't appreciate having to wait for it.

Get rid of wasted space at the top of the page, and move the content up higher on the page. Shrink that logo and move that long-winded mission statement to an internal page; use the space you recovered to tell me what's new on your site, so I won't have to hunt for what you're so eager to share.

6) Are your pictures small enough?

Most online photos should be no bigger than about a playing card. If your readers like the picture, they can follow a link to a full-sized version.

Graphics can take a lot of time to load. Even if you drag the corners of the picture so that the image looks smaller on your screen, you are still forcing your web visitors to download the full-sized picture.

You can reduce the size of your image files by using a photo editing tool to reduce the number of pixels (colored dots) stored in the image file. Save photos in .jpg format and graphics (like decorative stripes or cartoons) in .gif format.

FrontPage has a very convenient "thumbnail" feature that will automatically create a smaller version of your picture and link it to the larger one. (Look up "thumbnail" in the FrontPage help file -- it's a two-click process.)

7) Do you force large multimedia files on your visitors?

While you may feel tempted to upload a silly sound clip that plays every time your page loads, or add dancing hamsters or falling snowflakes to your page, keep that frivolous stuff on a special "fun and games" page.

A joke that seems hilarious to you and your friends may be annoying or offensive to a potential employer.

8) Is your content significant?

Was the assignment "Fiddle around with layout and color for a while, then turn in whatever you've got"? Or were you asked to accomplish specific tasks? Will your website make sense to strangers? (See: "Usability Testing: What is it?")

9) Have you actually written hypertext?

Online writing differs from ordinary prose in several ways. Online text should be shorter and a little bit blunter. Break up long paragraphs into short chunks. Use page titles, section headings, bulleted lists, and bold keywords to help your reader determine what's important on your page.

Hypertext requires links. Create meaningful connections between the pages that you yourself created and to pages that already exist on the Internet. If you have taken an ordinary document, chopped it up into pieces, and strung them together with "next" links, then you haven't written hypertext.

10) Have you left time to revise?

"If I'd had more time, I'd written a shorter book." --Mark Twain

All good writing is the result of a process that includes multiple drafts and revision. Fiddling with fonts and "cool" text effects is fun, but don't fritter away so much time that your content suffers.

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