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Editing Web sites

by Jean Hollis Weber

Presented to:

Australian Society for Technical Communication (NSW) Conference, 30-31 October 1998


Web site
a group of related HTML files

Web page
one HTML file (plus its associated image files, if any)

Home page (default, index)
the first page seen when accessing a Web site

Topics covered

Audience & purpose of site

In addition to the usual audience analysis questions, ask:

  • Audience’s purpose in visiting the site?
  • How will audience use the material?
    • Read and interact online
    • Download
    • Print

Editing the content

  • Use a style guide
  • Copy edit as usual
  • Edit for standard technical writing principles, including:
    • User-centred writing
    • Unambiguous, meaningful titles and headings
    • Break paragraphs into lists
  • Write newspaper style to assist skimming
    • Put the most important information first
    • Summarise the main points
    • Link to details
  • Use definition list style:
    a short title (with link) followed by a sentence or two of summary

Home page

  • Must load quickly
  • Must provide
    • Something of value to the audience
    • Not just pretty pictures
  • Must clearly indicate
    • What’s on the site
    • How to find it

Editing for usability


Is the site organised in a way that is

  • Meaningful to the audience
  • Not just to the organisation?

Some questions to ask:

  • What are the users’ most likely questions?
  • Are the answers easy to find?
  • Are the navigation labels useful?

Is it always clear to users

  • Where they are?
  • How to get back to where they came from?
  • How to get somewhere else on the site?

Are the navigation aids

  • Easy to locate?
  • Clearly and meaningfully labeled?


  • Are the links helpful, logical, trivial, confusing?
  • Is it clear where the links go and what the reader will find there?
  • Does summary information tell readers which links they need?

Navigation to-do list

  • Include a table of contents for the site
  • Use unambiguous headings, meaningful out of context
  • To make skimming easier, put links in a list rather than sentences
  • Put a navigation bar on each page

Page length & organisation

Advantages of long pages

  • Easier to skim, print, download, and search
  • Faster to scroll and follow internal links than to retrieve another page

Advantages of short pages

  • Pages load faster
  • Get only the information you want

Finding information on the site

In addition to navigation aids:

  • Include a table of contents (with links)
  • Provide a traditional index (with links)
  • Provide a search facility (with links)

Accessibility issues

Hardware and software used by target audience

  • Desktop, laptop, palmtop machines?
  • Latest versions or older?
  • Windows, DOS, Mac, other?
  • Monitor size and resolution?
  • Which browser?
  • Modem or other access method?
  • Speed of internet link?

Any visual disabilities?

  • Using print-to-voice readers?
  • Need large font size?
  • Colour blind?

Any relevant physical disabilities?

Accessibility to-do list

  • Use layout that non-graphical browsers and text readers can interpret
  • Avoid browser-specific features
  • Use ALT tags on graphics
  • Offer more than one view of the site, if you use tables or frames
  • Reduce size of graphics files and use tags that reduce page loading time

Testing for accessibility

Test the site using different

  • Browsers
  • Screen resolutions
  • Number of colours
  • Font sizes (set by user in browser)

Test site on slower modem link

  • Does text load before graphics?
  • Does page take too long to display?

Test with graphics turned off

  • Has any content been lost?
  • Have ALT tags been used for graphics?

Common problems

  • Some content is not visible
  • Text overlaps other text or graphics
  • Graphics are off side of screen
  • Graphics load very slowly
  • Columns don’t line up
  • Colour combinations are unreadable
  • Text hard to read on background
  • Titles, descriptions, author information missing or wrong

Can audience find the site?

To improve the use of search engines:

  • Use META tags for keywords, title, author, descripton
  • Include unambiguous keywords in titles and headings within the text
  • First 100 words must make a good description

Editing tips

  • Use a site map that shows all pages (and preferably the links between them)
  • Print pages to examine for consistency and to mark up corrections
  • View and test everything online
  • Know enough HTML to examine the source when needed
  • Insert editorial comments in the source
    <!– xxxxxxxxx –>
  • Edit keywords in a similar way to editing an index
  • Check the title line on the browser
  • Test for accessibility

Layout recommendations

  • Use standard HTML and let the browser interpret it
  • Do not specify colours for links
  • Do not specify font sizes
  • Do not use tags to achieve an effect
  • Use indents with care, to avoid narrow “pillars” of text
  • Don’t use spaces or tabs to line up text; most browsers will ignore them
  • Minimise horizontal scrolling by
    • Sizing figures to fit within 800 pixels
    • Reworking tables to fit within 800 pixels
  • Follow recommendations for accessibility


List of resources

Get browsers, validation tools etc from CDs on magazines such as Australian Personal Computer or

Last updated 24 November 1998