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="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</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="http://pages.emerson.edu/courses/spring01/jr485/"> 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.)
- e-mail: use a hyphen, no caps.
- Internet: capitalize the one-big-network; lower case is OK when talking about smaller collections of interconnected networks, but you don't see them in the news very often.
- Web: capitalize as a short form of the proper name World Wide Web, lower case for more general use.
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 http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimerPrintable.html 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.
- Graphics: If you didn't make an image yourself, ask permission to use it, and include a note giving credit to the source. Some clip art sites explicitly give you permission. Otherwise, it's a good idea to send a polite e-mail asking for permission and promising to link from your page back to the original. Some professional artists provide special link graphics for just that purpose, and don't want to use any other samples of their work. After all, it's how they make a living. See http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/info/faq_and_contacts.html#4
The cartoonist's syndicate says:
"If you display an element from our site on your web page, you have altered our material and redistributed it without our permission. Altering our copyrighted material, i.e., inlining a comic strip, is a violation of United Media's copyrights." Sounds to me like
they're not joking!
- Web sites like WebPagesThatSuck routinely show samples of work they are discussing, and unless I hear otherwise I'll assume that your pages can do the same as "fair comment" in a non-profit, education-oriented site, and that no lawyers will send us threatening e-mail about "altering and redistributing." Let me know immediately if you hear any complaints!
In a review, keep in mind that you are "clipping" samples of sites to comment on them, not to make your page more attractive. If you have any doubt about use of a publication's images, I suggest asking permission. Look for a contact e-mail on the site, or just send a note to "webmaster@SITENAME.com" to ask for advice. Who knows, that correspondence might turn into an e-mail acquaintanceship with someone who could recommend you for an internship or a job!
- Big quotations: Some readers may assume that something indented without quotation marks is a direct quote (a college term-paper "blockquote" style), but others may think the indentation is simply there to provide visual relief from big blocks of hard-to-read text. Be sure to clearly attribute the quoted material to its source! You may find it clearest to use newspaper-style attribution to identify who's talking, and to use both indentation and quote marks with longer passages to avoid confusing anyone.
- Newspapers often put quoted blocks of text in italic type, or in a box with a different background color and a credit line. Similar techniques of setting off quoted material from your own words can be used on online.
- If you're writing a more academic article as a web page and quoting several other writers, I'd suggest a bibliography page and hyptertext footnotes. You could link a brief citation in the body of your text to a full entry on a separate bibliography page. There are formal styles for citing online resources as well as print sources. See these examples:
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 www.useit.com.
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