Designers that work with the Web and multi-media must often wear the hats of several different professionals. Frequently they must think like visual artists, debug code like programmers, and even script scenes like a movie director. As if all of this were not more than enough to keep them moving in several different directions at once, they are also often called upon to act as creative writers and copy editors.

Out of all the duties that may fall to the interactive media designers, writing copy can be the most intimidating. The designer is comfortable when it comes to communicating through images and graphics, but because good writing requires a detailed knowledge of so many different grammatical rules and styles, creating copy is the task that many designers fear most. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. By learning a few of the simple rules that professional authors use, the designer can be well equipped for writing good copy. What follows are a few of those rules.

Get to the Point

It is important to be clear and concise. Why say in one hundred words what can be said in ten? In times past, authors were paid by the word. Because of this many of them had a tendency to write a great deal of filler to enhance their paycheck. Somewhere along the line everyone got the idea that for a written piece to be good, it had to be long. Web and other media projects do not suffer under this income based glut of words. In fact, due to the limited space and the reading habits of Internet users, the higher paid copy writers are those that can say what needs to be said in as few words as possible.

Explaining the Complex with Examples

One of the biggest problem areas when working to keep the copy brief is trying to explain complex ideas. Tedious details and meandering thoughts will destroy the readability of any text, but a direct approach through the use of examples, will give the reader a great deal of information in a format that will help them understand what you are try to say. In other words, think of using examples as a way of showing the reader something instead of just talking about it.

Give Them Smaller Bites

The format of the Web and other forms of electronic media is one that is better suited for content that is arranged in small doses. This especially holds true for the written word. Web readers tend to skim over copy, looking for parts that may interest them. When the copy is organized into smaller units, the site visitor is inclined to take the time to read what has been written. Even if they do not, breaking down the content into smaller units will make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.

Writing for your Audience

Designers are familiar with the concept of tailoring their work to the intended audience in order to communicate more effectively. The same idea should be applied to writing copy.

Avoiding Jargon

Jargon refers to words that carry specific meanings for limited groups of people or a profession. An example of this would be the terminology used by the medical profession. The sentence, “ A hematoma resulting from hemorrhaging into surrounding tissues of the mandible” would be lost on most people, but nearly everyone would understand “ a bruise on the jaw .” A good rule to use is that unless the writer is certain every reader will understand it, jargon should be avoided. If some bit of jargon must be used or it is a major part of the content, then it is best to give an explanation of the word in a clear manner so that all readers are capable of understanding the copy.

The Stilted Vocabulary

When writing, it is often tempting to use big words. Words like authoritative sound … really authoritative, but they can also cause problems. If the reader must pause to look up the meaning of a word then the flow of communication is broken or worse, what usually occurs is that the reader just skips over the word and hopes that the rest of the sentence will give them some clue to its meaning. Writers should keep in mind that the average U.S. citizen reads at an 8 th to 9 th Grade level and that using words beyond the understanding of their audience is a very poor practice.

Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

The most damaging of all, errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation are the major roadblocks to effective communication through writing. Fortunately, with the help of technology, these problems can be easily avoided. Most of the software used to produce Web and multi-media projects can correct spelling errors and a good word processing application, such as Microsoft Word, can go a long way toward catching awkward grammar and poor punctuation. Although it may seem to take more time, by writing all copy in a word processing application before bringing it into a Web site, a designer can save himself some grief and embarrassment down the road.

Another good practice is to pick up a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style . This small, but handy book is an easy read and is an indispensable tool when it comes to writing.

Reading What Others Have Written

The final guide to write effectively is to read what others have written. If some bit of text does a good job of communicating, take notice of how it was written and analyze why it works. If, on the other hand, a written piece is difficult to understand or long and boring, take the time to figure out why it doesn't work and try not to make the same mistakes.

(James Gordon Bennet)

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