Nerds have more fun.
My life enjoyment has just kicked up a notch after reading the first third of Karl Stolley’s How to Design and Write Web Pages Today. I’m perhaps more excited about learning XHTML than I should be. Perhaps it’s just that I’m so relieved to NOT be reading a dense tome of theory. Maybe I’m using Stolley as an excuse to escape other homework. More likely I find this type of homework immediately gratifying, filling my need for a creative outlet (albeit one much different than my typical scrapbooking or drawing), and providing me with practical skills. Whatever the case may be, I let out an audible (if cautious) cheer today as I opened my first .htm file in Firefox. It worked! I saw the words right in front of me: “Jenny’s Page.”
I’m already frustrated that I can’t learn faster. You see, the user interface of the open-source integrated library system (ILS) I run in our school library, koha, is set on default, and I desperately want to make it look good. I just don’t know how. I’m a little afraid that by the end of the semester, I still won’t know how, but I’m pretty sure Stolley has enough information in this book to keep me learning web design well into the summer, too.
One of the things I appreciate most about Stolley’s text is that he approaches web writing from a rhetorical perspective. I know, I’m biased. That’s my degree. Still, I hold that consideration of the rhetorical situation is the only way to approach an audience as confidently and considerately as possible.
Writing for the web is a rhetorically rich task. I think it requires consideration of rhetorical elements on many levels. Stolley begins by pointing out that web writing is layered. Not only do writers need to consider the language of their content, but also the language of webpage structure. So, he includes instruction about content: use writing that is “direct and to the point,” “rich with key words,” and “makes good use of headings and lists.” (The best, and most difficult, advice was to “be interesting.”) And, he discusses best practices for formatting content. Content should be delivered according to Web standards issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The delivery method should be invisible to your audience (unless they decide to look at your code), but determines to a great extent whether they will keep reading or ever visit again. It all depends on how accessible, usable, and sustainable you create a website to be.
I won’t comment now on each element of Stolley’s triad, except to say that he bases rhetorical success on these three elements when it comes to web writing. The one I will mention briefly before closing is one I hadn’t considered ever before: accessibility. Little did I know that websites can be designed (should always be designed according to W3C) to be usable by all people. This includes people who can’t see, can’t type, or maybe who have older hardware or slower internet connections. Talk about a diverse audience. I think web writing may be one of the most challenging rhetorical situations yet.