Diane Rubino of The Population Council talked to us about
one of today’s hottest topics in the library and information fields. Her
presentation, entitled “Cutting Edge Roles in New Technology”, dealt
with how to effectively present information on the web. Diane outlined
some of the basic principles of converting print documents into web
documents, and gave practical hints and suggestions that anyone involved
in electronic publishing will find invaluable.
When designing an electronic document, consider the
audience. Who are they, what knowledge do they already have, and what are
they trying to find out? What is their skill level? What are their
interests? Will they be looking for a few easy facts, or full text
documents? Use your answers to these questions to guide your efforts.
Next think about visual design. How should the page be
laid out? What information should be presented first? How long will your
page be? What styles will you use? What techniques will you use to catch
your users’ interests, and to make sure that your key points leap out?
While making these decisions, consider that only 10% of web users scroll
down beyond the initial screen. This gives you 4 inches to present all of
your information, or to catch the readers attention so that they continue
past this initial page. Most web users scan for information, instead of
reading every word. Use graphics, bold text, and bulleted lists to create
visual interest. These techniques can help break up an otherwise
monotonous page. Don’t forget to make sure your document is consistent
in its use of textual alignment, repetition of key visual patterns, and
enough space for margins, pictures, and to separate differing topics.
To insure that your web document can be easily perused by
the reader, and is written in language that can be absorbed quickly, use
simple language and tight sentences. Know what kind of background
information must be included (or what should be left out) and use
appropriate terminology. A good rule of thumb is that a web document
should have half of the word count as the original document. This is what
Diane refers to as “lightening the cognitive load.”
Feel free to use graphics - a picture can be worth a
thousand words, just as long as it is used wisely. Graphics should be
complimentary to the text and should load quickly. If a graphic takes
longer than 10 seconds to load, it surpasses what Diane calls the
“threshold of frustration” and you may want to consider replacing it.
Don’t forget to take into consideration the structure of
the website as a whole and how your document can best fit into that
structure. Finally, remember that credibility is essential. Make sure the
information in the document is valid, that the writing is clear, the links
are working and are frequently updated, and you have included information
about the author, date posted, contact information, etc.
After Diane finished discussing these techniques with us,
she passed out sample print documents and we split up into groups to
redesign them for the web. Different groups explored various different
options and we made good use of the information we had just learned.
Lengthy sentences were shortened, key points were put into boldface type,
and needs of user groups were analyzed. All in all, it was an exercise
that produced many creative approaches and gave us much food for thought
to bring home to our respective websites.