Writing for the Web: Illustration of the Need

Many on-line web tutorials give practical, useful technical advice on everything from non-clashing color combinations to effective uses of animated GIFs, but barely mention writing at all.  There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the content will be supplied by the marketing and PR people, by the technoweenies, or worse, the pointy-haired bosses (of "Dilbert" fame).

  • Marketers and PR people want to spur the reader to action.  But readers are quickly turned off by empty claims (Click here for the best web site ever!!)
  • Technoweenies occasionally talk about clarifying your purpose or helping users navigate smoothly through your site.
    • Some rightly recognize the primacy of the content (after all, Bill Gates admits that "Content is King," though he focuses on ownership rather than distribution);
    • However, authors of "HTML Tips" sites are usually more interested in fiddling with fancy bells and whistles than they are in telling you how to make your content worth reading on the Internet.
  • As for the pointy-haired bosses, well, they're hopeless.

None of these people is trained to provide useful information efficiently and accurately; they're all going to try to do whatever they were trained to do instead.  

Here's an illustration of why the Internet needs more good writers.  Web designers are frequently talented people who combine creative graphic design with a flair for programming.  They often work with templates -- test versions of web pages that display fancy graphics, but with dummy text -- the text isn't important to their work at this stage.  Often the dummy text begins like this:

Example of dummy text
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

Once the designer has picked out the color scheme and sketched the layout, little keyboard geeklings called "HTML editors" are supposed to pour the content into the templates, just like you pour jello into a mold.  But surprisingly often, the HTML editors forget to remove all of that dummy text.

When Hits on "lorem ipsum dolor sit amet"
Early 1999 6000
Aug 1999 7000
Jul 2000 12,000
Sep 2002 40,000 pages with this dummy text

Often the dummy text appears where the title of the page should be, in captions, or in other areas where readers expect to find information.

Concluding observations:

  1. Web designers too frequently ignore their content
    They overlook an important point -- users want useful web pages.  Pointy-haired bosses that pay handsome salaries to their graphic designers and programmers, but don't hire talented writers, are wasting everybody's time.
  2. I certainly wouldn't buy services from a "Lorem ipsum dolor" web site. 
    How much business are those pages generating? Do the people who hired those webmasters even know how to use a web browser? How else could that text end up in so many published web pages?
  3. Good web pages require good writing.

See also:

Category Tags