A reader wrote the other day to ask my opinion: What did I consider good examples of writing on the web?
Well, I confess I couldn't leap up with a dozen examples on the tip of my tongue. Examples of bad writing, however, are easy to come by. On my blog H5N1, I often excerpt text from news stories, government websites, and technical sources. All too often, I have to tinker with the text to make it readable.
For example, some scientific abstracts are solid blocks of text, 200 or 300 words long. I can't edit them, but I can re-paragraph them to make them easier to read.
News reports are often more reader-friendly, full of one-sentence paragraphs. The sentences, however, may run to 40 or more words—and it's often the first paragraph that tries to create an "abstract" of the whole story. (When I excerpt the text anyway, I usually apologize for the style.)
In other cases, the text may be concise and well-paragraphed, but appallingly displayed. Some poor souls are still stuck in 1996, proudly publishing white text sprawled across a black background clear across the screen.
Others have crisp black text on a white background. But the lines run to 15 or 20 words. Here's an example from Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, which is OK but could be much better with shorter lines. He hasn't changed his format in years, and he should have.
Subheads can break up the text still more and provide landmarks. Too many webwriters neglect this simple aid to readers.
Of course, sometimes a text is on a website only to be printed off and read on paper. In that case, it just has to be readable when printed.
You're welcome to visit H5N1 and my other blogs to see how I try to live by my own rules.
Judge the Top Blogs on Their Writing!
But here's another suggestion. Visit Technorati: Popular Blogs and see what you think of the writing on some of the top sites.
Or are other factors at work in these high-traffic, high-impact sites? I'd love to hear your comments.