Better Practice Checklist

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1 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web About this checklist With the increase of online facilities and functions to Government websites, and nongovernment websites now offering advanced interactive features, it may be easy to forget that the quality and appropriateness of content is still paramount on the Web. If content is irrelevant or difficult to understand and inaccurate or tiresome to read - the site will fail to meet the user s requirements and expectations. The aim of this checklist is to improve the quality, relevance and readability of text on Government websites. Website content includes elements such as text, images, forms, tables and diagrams. This checklist deals primarily with text. The items in the checklist are not mandatory. Audience for this checklist This checklist is intended for Australian Government employees who are responsible for writing, editing or proof-reading text for a Government website.

2 Overview Understand the Web environment as a writer... 3 A website is work in progress... 3 The Web is about hyperlinking... 3 The Web is interactive... 3 Search engines and Web pages... 3 Identify the aim of the content... 3 Identify the aims... 3 Prioritise and record the aims... 4 Identify your intended audiences... 4 Identify the intended audience(s) of the website by section and page... 4 Identify their characteristics... 4 Writing approaches and techniques... 4 Match the writing style to your aims and the intended audiences... 4 Layer information... 4 Place critical information in plain sight when entering web page... 5 Use succinct and easy-to-understand headings to help users find information fast... 5 Use dot-points and lists where appropriate as they are easier to scan than paragraphs... 5 Write succinctly... 5 Use vocabulary users understand... 5 Formats for conveying your message... 5 Consider the most appropriate format for conveying your content... 5 Test the contents with the intended audiences... 5 Editing and proof-reading... 6 Have an editor check the contents throughout the writing process... 6 Have the contents proof-read before being published... 6 Managing the writing process... 6 Further information... 7 Reference books... 7 Online resources... 7 Related AGIMO checklists... 7 About the Better practice checklists... 7 Acknowledgments Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

3 Checkpoints Understand the Web environment as a writer A website is work in progress A website is not a static environment. It is a dynamic environment in which users expect to see change and read information that is current and accurate. Embrace the concept that a website is a work in progress. The benefits will be significant: writers should not concern with the scope and depth of information on the website as new content can be added removed, errors or omissions corrected and old information archived; writers will seek feedback from users and respond to it; and readers will always have access to current information. The Web is about hyperlinking Perhaps the most unique feature of the Web as a publishing medium is hyperlinking the referencing to a document, or specific element within that document, that the reader can directly follow, or that is followed automatically. Hyperlinking is very liberating for writers and readers. It means information can be presented in layers. Non-essential information can be referred to and accessed via a hyperlink. When writing, always consider any other Web pages and online documents to which you might refer readers. The Web is interactive The Web is not just for presenting text. Users come to a website with an expectation that they will not only read information but interact with it, see things and follow links to other information. Web writers need to consider how their text can be enhanced by other forms of content and through interactivity e.g. diagrams, videos and interactive maps. Use a layered approach when presenting users with large blocks of text. Allow them to judge whether the section of the website they are in is relevant before presenting the entire information. Only when the user is certain they are in the right area, provide a hyperlink to all relevant information you may have. Remember, users have the mouse in their hands and will exit a site very quickly if it fails to engage them. Search engines and Web pages Writers should not assume readers have seen the home page, or any other page of the site. The text displayed on each Web page needs to stand on its own and make sense to the user who has just landed on the page from a search engine or other link. Web users find information via search engines such as Google and Bing. Links from search engines hyperlink to a page within a website, rather than to the home page (introduction page to the website). Identify the aim of the content It is difficult to compose a Web page effectively if the aim of the page is unknown or unclear. Knowing the aim of the page can help with determining the style, tone, depth of information and format of the information to be displayed. The same can be said of the importance of knowing the audiences see the next section. Identify the aims Determine the aims of the page before commencing with writing. This can be achieved through consultation with colleagues and managers, and in addition through aligning the aims of the page with the direction and intention of the web site. Aims may include one, or a combination, of the following: 3 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

4 informing raising awareness instructing promoting training engaging persuading Prioritise and record the aims For each identified aim - determine if it is a low, medium or high priority. Rank the aims from high to low priority. Constantly refer to the high-priority aims when writing to ensure you keep on track. Identify your intended audiences Knowing who the audience is and how they use the Web is essential to effective writing. Writing content aimed at experienced web users is quite different from writing for citizens who are new to the Web. Identify the intended audience(s) of the website by section and page Identify the intended audience(s) of a web page or section of a website. Typical categories include: the public, businesses, citizens, researchers, other governments and tourists. Be as precise as possible when identifying the intended audiences. Identify their characteristics For each intended audience group, determine any characteristics that might impact on the way in which the text should be written or presented. Characteristics include: age, education, cultural background, location, gender and Web experience. If a web page has multiple intended audiences, consider creating separate pages for the different audiences. Understand how your audiences use the Web People approach websites in many different ways and have different expectations about the content. Common themes to Web use include the following: Users scan web pages until they see something that meets their needs. Many users are impatient and time-poor. Users aim to spend as little time on a website as possible. Many users do not care why a program or service is offered, they just want to know how to get it, what they need to do or need to know. Writing approaches and techniques For every web page that is written, writers must determine the most effective way of presenting the information. The choice of words, structure of the information and tone should match the aims and intended audiences of the web page. Consideration also needs to be given to the way in which people generally react to information on a web page. The following hints and tips are based on best practice. Match the writing style to your aims and the intended audiences If the audience is young adults, and the aim of the web page is to encourage them to take up a government service, the style needs to be positive, encouraging and written in language to which they will respond favourably. Layer information Do not force users to read everything because they may not want to or need to. Remember that many users are impatient and time-poor. Provide a clear and succinct summary or heading at the top of the page that will help readers determine if they are in the right area. In addition provide links to more information. 4 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

5 More detailed information might appear on the same page or be spread across a number of pages. Place critical information in plain sight when entering web page Do not assume users will politely scroll down the page to read what appears below the screen. Users may scroll once they know they are on the right web page, but it is safer to assume they will miss vital information or calls to action if these items are out of sight. This may mean breaking a web page into several pages. If all information is important and detailed, and cannot be broken up, consider providing it as a PDF. Use succinct and easy-tounderstand headings to help users find information fast Good headings with a clear hierarchy will help users who are scanning your pages to find information fast. Good headings also give structure and context to the content. Use dot-points and lists where appropriate as they are easier to scan than paragraphs Information presented on the Web in bullet or list form is easier to identify and absorb than information presented in paragraph form. Use a bulleted list for information such as benefits or criteria. When presenting a step-by-step process, or if the hierarchy of items in a list of needs to be indicated, use a numbered list. Write succinctly When composing text on a web page keep the number of words to a minimum. The more words, the harder it is to scan and the more likely the user is to miss the important points. Succinct expression can be achieved by: using just one word to express a phrase e.g. change at this point in time to now ; not stating the obvious e.g. planning, not future planning ; and simplify sentences by breaking one sentence into two or more. Use vocabulary users understand Use words and phrases readers of the web page will understand. Avoid government and in-house jargon, acronyms and technical language if the page is for non-government employees. Use a style and tone appropriate to the aims of the content and intended audiences. Formats for conveying your message With the aim of the content and the intended audience in mind, the writer needs to consider how best to convey the content. The most common method is to present it in sentences and paragraph form. The next most common is in bulleted and numbered lists. However, other methods should be considered. Consider the most appropriate format for conveying your content step-by-step instructions frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) checklists quizzes tutorials diagrams flow charts images animations. Test the contents with the intended audiences Test the contents with representatives of the intended audiences. This can be done via focus groups or one-on-one sessions or via . Ask participants to comment on: the style, tone and language; 5 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

6 how easy it is to understand the headings and content; how easy it is to find information; whether the format and layout are appropriate; and whether the scope and detail are appropriate Act on the feedback once you are sure it is representative and valid. Editing and proof-reading Editing and proof-reading are essential processes in preparing content for publication on the Web. The writer is usually too close to the content to check it objectively so it should be done by someone else experienced in these tasks. Editors and proof-readers should refer to the reference books cited at the end of this checklist. Have an editor check the contents throughout the writing process The content editor should be identified early in the writing process and consulted prior to the content being proof-read. A content editor will ensure that a web page: is consistent with the Department or agency s publishing guides and the Australian Government Style Manual; conforms to the advice provided within this checklist; has a clear aim; is appropriate for the intended audiences; and is consistent in style, tone, language and presentation. Have the contents proof-read before being published has no grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors and is consistent and complies with relevant standards; headings, fonts and layout are correct; language is consistent and appropriate to the audience; and hyperlinks and cross-references are accurately presented. Managing the writing process Writing for Web audiences is always a challenge. However, a systematic approach to writing will reduce some of the challenges and produce a more satisfying result for the writer and reader. Some hints and tips to help with the writing process: set aside a block of time for writing e.g. three hours; find a quiet area away from your inbox, phone and people; ensure you have relevant reference books nearby e.g. Style Manual, dictionary, this checklist; note the aims and intended audiences at the top of the page to remind yourself of them; consider the appropriate formats for conveying the information e.g. list, flowchart; and create a text box in your word processor the size of which approximates the horizontal and vertical size of the web page in which the content will be displayed. Set an appropriate font size. Type, or paste, the contents in this text box. This reminds you of the size of space in which contents will be displayed on the Web, and also indicates the layout of the content and at what point the text disappears below the fold in the screen. Once the editor has checked the contents, the proof-reader will ensure that a web page: 6 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

7 Further information Reference books John Wiley & Sons, Australia Ltd Customer Service Department This Government style manual is for authors, editors and printers. It provides detailed advice on best practices in writing, editing, design and production of publications. The Elements of Style William Strunk and E.B. White The Macquarie dictionary The Australian Oxford dictionary Prioritising Web Usability Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger New Riders, 2007 Online resources Use your favourite search engine to source online dictionaries, dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms, explanations of punctuation and grammar and of difficult words. Take care to ensure the source of the information is reputable and is relevant to Australia and to government websites. If in doubt, comply with the reference books cited above. Related AGIMO checklists Testing Websites with users Managing online content Knowledge management Information architecture for websites Access and equity issues for websites About the Better practice checklists Comments about this checklist and suggestions for additional checkpoints can be directed to: Better Practice Australian Government Information Management Office Copies of this and other checklists are available at: 7 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

8 Better Practice Checklists Managing websites 1. Use of Metadata for Web Resources 2. Online Policy Consultation 3. Knowledge Management 4. ICT Support for Telework 5. ICT Asset Management 6. Managing the Environmental Impact of ICT 7. Assistive Technology for Employees of the Australian Government Planning websites 8. Providing Forms Online 9. Providing an Online Sales Facility 10. Selecting a Content Management System 11. Information Architecture for Websites 12. Website Navigation 13. Digitisation of Records 14. Access and Equity Issues for Websites 15. Marketing e-government 16. Designing and Managing an Intranet Building websites 17. Writing for the Web 18. Briefing and Selecting the Web Developer 19. Use of Cookies in Online Services 20. Implementing a Content Management System 21. Implementing an Effective Website Search Facility 22. Spatial Data on the Internet Maintaining websites 23. Managing Online Content 24. Archiving Web Resources 25. Decommissioning Government Websites Evaluating websites 26. Testing Websites with Users 27. Website Usage Monitoring and Evaluation Acknowledgments This checklist was developed by AGIMO and Website Criteria Pty Ltd. With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms all material presented in this document is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/) licence. The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website (accessible using the links provided) as is the full legal code for the CC BY 3.0 AU licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/legalcode). The document should be attributed as the Australian Government Better Practice Checklist 26 Writing for the Web 8 Better Practice Checklist Writing for the Web

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