The Linguist

The Linguist 51,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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INTERNET FOR BUSINESS How to write a website Jonathan Stockwell, of the European Commission���s DG Translation, offers some invaluable advice Read any good websites lately? If that seems a strange question, it���s probably because you���re about as likely to read a website for pleasure as you are a dictionary, insurance policy or the Highway Code. With the exception of blogs, online journalism and social media, web text is not there to be savoured. Effective web writing is functional, it helps users do practical jobs ��� from simple things such as checking train times and ordering books, to more complex tasks such as comparing university courses or applying for a home-insulation grant. People want to complete these tasks without wasting time over unclear phraseology, or hunting for key information in big blocks of prose. Effective writing ��� and translation ��� for the web begins with an understanding of how people use websites, and what they want from particular sites. Structure, style and vocabulary follow from that. The best web writing is unobtrusive and unnoticed by the people it serves, ready to provide what they want before they know they want it. Instead, commercial web writers require an understanding of what users come to their sites for, what terms they might be searching for, and how to guide them through the process of choosing and ordering. Web users are quick to go elsewhere if they don���t find what they are after. So, to succeed, corporate websites must follow their users��� agenda and provide a useful service. Understanding this is the first step to good web writing and, more specifically, to deciding what to write. What���s the webpage for? The starting point for any piece of writing is to be clear about its purpose: what job does the text have to do? For commercial websites, maximising sales is a likely priority. Does that mean web writers have to be good at writing catchy advertising copy? Well, no, because advertising in the traditional sense doesn���t work on the web. Web users don���t sit at their screens passively watching what���s fed to them; they actively determine what they see. Usually, they are looking for specific things and are liable to ignore, or be irritated by, advertising blurbs that distract from their search. 8 The Linguist What to leave out After spotting a new dry cleaner���s shop, I went online to find out more about their lockers for out-of-hours drop-off and collection, and to research their ���eco-friendly��� claims. But those interesting features weren���t mentioned at all on their site, which didn���t even give basics such as opening times and prices. Instead, the page began with the startling revelation, ���Dry cleaning is any cleaning process for clothing or textiles using a chemical solvent other than water.��� And it went on��� and on��� in the same vein. The thoughtful writer had even linked the word ���water��� to a Wikipedia page, just in case I DECEMBER/JANUARY was interested (I wasn���t). Admittedly, this is a rather extreme case, but it illustrates what can happen when a writer doesn���t think through who or what the page is for. Even when writers do include relevant information, a reader may have to wade through irrelevant background first. Good practice in academic essays, introducing and contextualising the subject is often misguided on the web. Mostly, the page heading and the banner saying who owns the site are introduction enough. The context is provided by the user-need: if I���ve found my way to a page on left-luggage facilities, I���ve almost certainly figured out that they are useful to bag-laden travellers. I don���t need an introductory paragraph telling me that. How to write it We spend years being taught to write polished, flowing prose. Perhaps we should also study the art of writing minimally ��� conveying essential information as concisely and simply as possible. Put key information first, be direct, and use the personal pronouns ���you��� and ���we���, provided it is clear who they refer to. Don���t be afraid to use a telegraphic style, with bullet points where appropriate. On the left-luggage page I mentioned, the first paragraph read: ���The left luggage office in the central station offers fantastic prices on hourly or daily storage with 24-hour storage costing just ��8. And our closed-circuit television cameras ensure that your bags will be kept under constant surveillance until you return at your convenience.��� However, much of this information was superfluous, as ���Central station in city X��� was already in the banner, and the page header

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