The Web Content Style Guide: The essential reference for online writers, editors and managers

by Gerry McGovern, Rob Norton and Catherine O'Dowd (London: Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2001): 256 pp, £21.99, ISBN 978 0273656050.

Reviewed by Margaret Hunter

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Good website=good writing

Oh great, I thought, as I read the first chapter, a guide to good writing for the web that actually puts the emphasis on good writing and the important role of editors. It sets out the main differences between writing for the web rather than print, and shows that all the technological advances in equipment and software can't make up for bad writing.

The second chapter on design seemed a bit weaker, assuming knowledge readers might not have and skimping on detail, but this book is about writing for the web, so I forgave that.

What happened?

But it all went downhill from there. The bulk of the book is an A to Z section that aims to 'codify the rules and standards that make for effective web writing and layout', but I found it disappointing and I got the feeling the book had lost its identity.

The entries are an uncomfortable mix of style considerations and definitions of web-related terms. A glossary would make better sense for the definitions. There are some nuggets of good advice on web writing, but these were buried in the entries on style – most of which were general house style matters rather than good web sense – and I would have missed them if I'd used it in an A-to-Z way rather than reading through the whole book.

I would like to extract the really useful bits and incorporate them into Chapter 1! Points such as making sure core navigation links are meaningful (not 'Click here') and don't extend over two lines to avoid confusion, and the different uses of bold, italic and underline on the web.

Try elsewhere

While the first chapter of this book is a useful introduction to writing for the web, I think there are better resources around. One is Developing Online Content: The principles of writing and editing for the web by Irene Hammerich and Claire Harrison (Wiley, 2002) or, for free, try the Web Style Guide.

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