Online News Web Project Guidelines

(Version 3.0 of Bob's EOJ Style Guide, Oct. 21, 2002)

Class projects for online journalism courses are published as Web pages, and as such they may be seen by anyone exploring the Internet. Here are some suggestions to get them ready for "prime time." These guidelines are open to discussion and revision, but they're a start.

1. Sign and date your work. It's always a good practice when writing something for public consumption, and on the Web it lets people know whether the information is being kept up to date or has been online without revision for years! Having your name and e-mail address on the page also gives interested readers an easy way to send you questions, corrections, or ask whether you'd like to link to their page on a related subject. Here's the code for the e-mail link: <a href=""></a>
(Add an "about the author" note if you want, or a link to your own home page.)

2. An "about this project" note would be a polite way to inform any accidental visitors that they've landed at "an article done for JR-485, Online Journalism, at Emerson College." The code to link to the course page would be:
<a href=""> JR485</a>

3. Be correct, consistent and careful with your spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you don't use a Web-editor with a spelling checker, cut and paste the text of your page from the browser to MS Word and let it do the checking -- but also proofread carefully. Use the Associated Press Stylebook and the dictionary if you're not sure about capitalization, abbreviation or punctuation rules. Here are a few Web-specific capitalization styles inspired by AP usage. (I'm trying to remember these in my own pages.)

4. For class assignments, pages should be printable. Test-print them with both Explorer and Netscape. (Old versions of Netscape, including the one in our lab, may have problems. If the current version of Explorer prints cleanly, that's good enough for us.) Use "print preview" if your browser and printer allow it. For example, if you use oversize graphics or set table widths too wide, one browser or the other may try to print beyond the width of the printed page. I use the blockquote code at the top and bottom of many of my pages to put blank space around the edges. That even leaves enough room on a standard sheet of paper to three-hole-punch printouts and put them in a binder. (Nice idea when taking samples of your work to a job interview.) Other designers make pages printable with table codes that set explicit page widths.
(See the well-illustrated Balanced page designs chapter in the Yale Web Style Guide for examples of designing for the screen and the printed page.)

5. If there are images that provide significant information on your page, put an explanatory "alternate text" in the image code to provide similar information anyone who looks at your page with a text-only browser. (For an explanation, see under "Alternate Text for Images.")

6. Navigation: If you have a multi-page site, don't assume that readers start at the beginning. They may have found an "internal" page by using a search engine, or someone else may have linked to one or your pages. Consider having a navigation menu on all pages, or at least links to a "home" or "index" page. Similarly, don't use a "front door" or "entry tunnel" for your pages -- give the audience content right away.

7. Sources, citation and inadvertent plagiarism:
Be sure your page makes it clear whether you are quoting someone else's work or providing your own paraphrase, summary or critique. A quote or a summary can be linked to its online source, but you should not leave it up to the reader to follow that link in order to tell whether the words are a direct quote or your paraphrase.

8. Minor style points: Avoid using underlining for emphasis or book titles. Most browsers are set to use underlining as an indicator that text is a link. For emphasis, use bold, italic, or a color change instead. It's also a good idea to avoid blue as a text color, since blue is the default link-text color on most sites. In general, it's better to make a key word a link, rather than add the phrase "click here" to the end of a sentence. People know the Web is about clicking.

9. For more discussion of Web design styles and usability, see the Yale CAIM Web Style Guide; for some good points on writing style online. For advice on both usable design and Web writing, you'll find tons of advice at Jakob Nielsen's

I'm thinking of adopting a list like this for all of my online journalism courses. For now, the suggestions are open to discussion. Let me know what you think of them!

Bob Stepno

Last revision Oct.21, 2002 Bob's Home Page