10 Tips on Writing the Living Web

by Mark Bernstein

100 Reader Comments

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  1. You might wonder what triggered my previous outburst—more likely, you didn’t care. But if you are getting a sinking feeling, it’s fully justified. I AM going to tell you what I was writing about.

    A page or so ago, I read:
    > For someone looking at the code
    > YYMMDD * 100.0001 = MMDDYY
    > was so elegant, obvious what the programmer was doing.

    so I replied. Then I noticed that the conversation had moved on.

    In the immortal words of Matt Groening: “Doh!”

    So now I’ll move even further back—thanks for the orignal article. It made me think. Mostly it made me think I don’t need to write a blog. I have nothing passionate to say, right now. A one-man crusade against grocers’ apostrophes doesn’t quite stir the blood. My ire is not yet kindled. I have not waxed wroth. I am perfectly calm (though my teeth are slightly gritted as I type this).

    Besides, apostrophe.org is taken. The world is safe from my prose for a little longer.

    PD.

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  2. Obviously it’s good to have input (even in the broad manner afforded by sites such as ala) from as many people as possible, but the scope for such articles is considerably degraded by repetition: I felt much of what was said by Mark Bernstein, was also said by Dennis A. Mahoney in issue 138, albeit in a slightly less economic manner. Other than that, I thought it to be a very well written, comprehensive and sensible piece; although not particularly enlightening on a personal level.

    I realise that I am probably as well-placed as the next man to make demands of people; but how about some anaylsis of the struggling levels of compliance amongst the W3Cs flagship members?

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  3. Thanks for the good advice here. I am not sure, this being my first page, of what is good to write. I try to be honest, usually with my writing anywhere i let my voice in my head come out on the web page. I’ve found several good ideas and pages just searching around. I dont think that any of the writing there was too heavy, or incorrect. Take out of it what you need, i am assuming that is why it was there. Thanks to the writers.

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  4. Sorry, but I have to say I disagree with the idea in “2. Write often” :

    “If you cannot write for a time, and the reason for your absence is interesting, write about it. Your honeymoon, your kidney transplant, your sister’s gubernatorial inauguration — all these can be predicted and worked into the fabric of your writing so that the interruption, when it comes, seems natural. But avoid, if you can, sudden cryptic pronouncements: “I’ll be unable to post for a while”? gives us nothing we can use or learn from.”

    From a security point of view, this is really stupid. You write “I’ll be away in Jamaca for 2 weeks on Saturday”, hacker thinks “hmm, 2 weeks to break in and mess up their site”, and burgaler checks your domain whois for your address, breaks in and steals the entire contents of your house. May as well leave the keys under the doormat as well.

    Or maybe I’m paranoid…

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  5. oh, and this forum is weird. Whats with all the “I’ll “I’ll “Iâ€â€œI’l“I’ll ??

    Plus, as noted by someone above, the “Post A Message:” at the bottom of EVERY page is misleading, really easy for a newcomer or forgetfull regular to make a post relating to the last post at the bottom of a given page, only to find it 2 or 3 pages away once posted. There you go, two bugs to sort out…

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  6. Um .. what IS that graphic behind the title of the article? Looks like a diagram of the top part of the female reproductive system. Is that a Fallopian tube to the left?

    A “Womb of the Living Web” theme perhaps? :)

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  7. Yes, I just now made that EXACT error regarding the “Post A Message” at the bottom of the first page. Only after my post “failed” to appear did I notice there were more pages of posts … after some frantic skimming, I was much relieved to see that pure luck prevented me from making the newbie error of asking a question that had already been answered.

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  8. Very nice article, it makes me think that this responds to the need of “human-like-interactivity”. I enjoy websites that makes me think that there’s somebody on the other side, alive, of course :)

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  9. mmmm… real nice article! I enjoyed reading it and will start writing more often. I have been thinking about this for a while actually but am really inspired now. Thanks for putting up such a lovely article.

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  10. I think these, like all other rules, are stupid. You’re starting to sound like fukcing Jakob. Sheesh. Of course I agree with much of this, except not in the form of rules, simply preferences. There are many ways, and I mean, come on: “be sexy” and “post often” are just fukcing idiotic. So is the admonition that online writers (esp. webloggers) have some obligation to their readers.

    To quote Karl Hagen: “Our rules and systems are arbitrary, and to claim for them some moral or logical superiority has never withstood the scrutiny of debate.”

    Love, despite,

    Joe Mexico
    http://meltingobject.blogspot.com

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  11. i thought it was a bit inappropriate for the author of article to mention archiving systems, including the one made by the company for which he works (tinderbox) without a disclaimer to that effect. had he disclaimed his relationship with the product, i wouldn’t have thought twice about his relationship to the material, but now i wonder if this was intended to be one big advertisement about starting a great blog or online writing center, and then using the terrific tinderbox product to manage it!

    just my thoughts. who is the ombudsman here, anyway?

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  12. “But what keeps readers coming back is compelling writing that’s continually fresh and new.”

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  13. -/

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  14. There’s some good advice in this article, some bad advice and some decidedly odd advice (“Don’t tell us your opinion: tell us why the question is important” – put forward a question but don’t try and answer it?!? why would that be a good thing?). The article also rambles on a bit, which is kind of ironic I guess…

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  15. maybe it’s irony on a base level, but i like it. reason i’m complaining is i was hoping to test the feature in mozilla that checks pages for updates and automatically opens the page…maybe i’ll try slashdot

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  16. As many has allready mentioned, the stuff explained in this article isn’t new to most people, but it’s those things many people forget to do when running a weblog or another text-content based website.

    On a different note. Something makes the charset mess up in this comment section. when people write “DON’T” it inserts questionmarks and other strange charactors around the ’ . I’ll make a screenshot and post it later. I’m too tired right now.

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  17. This article got me sacked!

    Well, almost. I read it and thought how it could be applied on our site, then I realised my boss would never understand/care/take an interest because he really hasn’t a clue (he’s an accountant) and this made me mad, so I said my job was a joke (on my blog) and got sacked.
    So now I’m jobless because of your well written, well thought out article on ALA – thanks a bunch!

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  18. Good essay, but should be edited down by two-thirds. Time is money.

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  19. “Updating daily (or weekly) content can challenge the most dedicated scribe or site owner (even A List Apart).”

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  20. is u ! ?

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  21. Am I JACOB Neilsen OR NOT!!?
    http://ami.iamcal.com/index.php?site=Jakob+Nielsen

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  22. I loved reading “write for a reason”. I am passionate about what i write, and have always written that way. I just loved everything it had to say, and the great tips it had to offer. this is my first time here, but it wont be the last. Thanks so much to my teacher who MADE us go to this site :o). (dont you just love it).

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  23. YYMMDD * 100.0001 = MMDDYY

    As Ashley said, that is not correct. I get “YYMMDDYY.MMDD”

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  24. I wold like to join

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  25. YYMMDD * 100.0001 = MMDDYY” provided you define your field as 6 digits no decimal.

    YYMMDDYY.MMDD” uses an output field of 8 digits in front of the decimal and 4 after.

    But if you make your output six in front of the decimal, with no rounding, and that is all, then the unwanted parts fall off.

    This is elegant from perspective of easy to read the code.

    It is not elegant from perspective of someone verifying it … if we messed up with placement of ones and zeros, a human being eyeballing the code would see what we doing, but not that we doing it wrong.

    It is not elegant from perspective of how some computers internally operate.

    Since Y2K moved me to CCYYMMDD format (the C for Century), I have found other ways to do date math, and avoid this risk of a typo.

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  26. I like this article. Yes, it was long, but easy to read. Especially first three-four tips were very useful. I disagree with opinion about spelling mistakes and grammar errors. I don’t like them, because from my point of view they decrease readability of material.

    Nepto

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  27. I find the imperative really, really annoying in otherwise-valuable articles like this. My instinctive reaction to sentences like “If you are writing for the Living Web, you must write consistently. You need not write constantly, and you need not write long, but you must write often.” is “bite me”.

    The only rule on the Living Web is “you must write whatever the hell you feel like writing, whenever the hell you feel like writing it.” By giving orders to the contrary, Mark just comes off sounding snooty.

    If they hadn’t been phrased as imperatives liberally salted with “must“s, many of these bits of advice would have been useful. “If you want people to keep coming back to your site, it will help if you write consistently, so it won’t happen very often that they come in expecting something new, and are disappointed.” But it’s not a “must”; if your writing is good enough, people will set page-minders on you, and will eagerly go and read when they get the change notification, even if the time interval isn’t predictable.

    And maybe you don’t care whether or not thousands of people keep coming back. How do I reconcile all these “musts” with “you are, in the end, your most important reader”?

    “Never waffle, whine, or weasel.” What, never? So people who are naturally whiny weasels should just stay the heck off of the Living Web, or should at least never show that side of themselves? They should leave the place to us perfect types who can always avoid doing those things?

    “Understand the storyteller’s art and use the technique of narrative to shape the emerging structure of your living site.” And if you don’t have the time or the inclination to study the storyteller’s art, just shut the heck up?

    “If you are writing in order to discover your mind or to try out a new stance, continue by all means— but file the note in your desk drawer, not on your website.” Utter drivel. I like to read people trying out new stances and discovering their own minds. I dunno why Bernstein doesn’t, but I resent him trying to forbid people from doing it.

    “Disagreement is exciting.” I found this article very exciting. *8)

    DC

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  28. as a computer geek and former english major in university,
    i fiind it ironic that we are attempting to finite the pattern of speech that has the potential to glorify these pages. if we will assume that the internet is the wild,wild west, then let the conversation on these pages
    flow with the same untamed abandoment as john wayne in true grit.

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  29. Very nearly the definition of self-indulgence.

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  30. Wow…maybe I’ve just been out of the loop of writing for a while, but a lot of what was said really hit home for me. The whole time I was thinking, “Damn straight! I’m not a pussy, I can write! I think I will!” Thanks for the wake up call…it was oodles of helpful info!

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  31. EVERY premise in this article was echoed in my creative writing and playwriting classes in college—some of these lessons I still haven’t quite learned, but getting there.

    Moral: Hammer hammer it in. Eventually, it will sink in.

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  32. This may be inferred in the article but I find that keeping a blog brief is crucial to its quality. Many people can write some good stuff that just goes on and on and on. Break it up with some “headlines” or something within the big block of text to show a new thought or new idea. I find many blogs just hard to read.

    Imagine this article without the bold, numbered headers to each new aspect of the content. It would be much more difficult to read, as many blogs are. Remember that you are writing for the WEB and not for print. Jakob Nielsen would smile right now :o)

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  33. A lot of common sense but very useful common sense.
    Thank you for this effort to improve writing on the web, especially in blogs.

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  34. Great tips on writing blogs.

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  35. 11. Find a good ears

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  36. Hi david.. i one hundred percent agree with you… web is a medium of free expression.. there’s ‘NO’ musts..

    long live free internet..

    rk//

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  37. you all sound like god damn smart asses to me?! this was created for your use you dont HAVE to use it you dont HAVE to critisise it?! Somebody probably worked hard on it!

    Jeri Fallaize
    ———x———

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  38. Wow! There’s a lot to think about!!
    And it will be hard to use all these hints in a good way!
    But it’s great to have some “guidelines” to make a good publication.
    I started my own weblog (http://hotopblog.antville.org) in december last year. Now (hopefully) I will improve my efforts… Thanks a lot!!

    Matthias

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  39. 11. Identify plugs in the body of your text, not in an end note.

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  40. I believe that this article goes well beyond pure common sense. I’m a newbie at weblogging and will most certainly spread the word to friends to read this. Sometimes we forget don’t understand the simplest things in writing that matter, and through this article I discovered some of my flaws in writing and learned new things about friends and writing with a sense of ‘why should the reader care? I hope I can one day contribute to this truly amazine site I discovered through A LINK IN ANOTHER SITE.

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  41. nice article. i started mine some 3 months ago.: [http://www.duelcom.com/malani/]

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  42. I was certainly inspired and educated by this article. I actually found it by following a link on a Blog I read regularly…one the writer has not found obviously.The link was for www.realworldstyle.com and they linked here…anyway I digress.
    I am surprised at all the criticism, but it is interesting to read. I do try to use a spellchecker on my blog, as it distracts me to see spelling errors when I read anything.
    This site is definately going into my favorites list and may even find a link on my website.
    Thanks for the effort and the inspiration.

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  43. I enjoyed the article. It was a good refresher for me on writing. I would like to hear your thoughts on writers block expanded more and how to find inspiration. That would be an interesting discussion/conversation.

    Ron
    Power Tools for Webmasters
    Get you site featured at
    http://webmastertoolbox.net

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  44. This article is awesome. It is what inspired me to improve my writing, and it (and its follow-up) continue to be my refreshers everytime I feel I’m losing the plot as far as writing goes. Thank you very much, ALA, for the articles.

    After reading some of these comments, however, I’m slightly confused. Perhaps I’m interpretting the article wrong, but I took tip 10 (RE not worrying about correctness) to mean that your first priority is getting the message across instead of getting led astray by strict details of i’s before e’s and semicolons? Maybe the author could clarify if he is not too busy?

    I do feel that improvements could have been made to both this article and its follow-up (particularly in the follow-up), where more examples of elegant writing could be given, more examples of “right” and “wrong” and “what sells” and “what smells”. But I guess those must be things we are to figure out on our own…?

    Thanks again, ALA, for your inspiration and guidance.
    Xiu.
    http://www.sanlive.com
    —fruit of the mind.

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  45. fdhdfhdfghdfgh

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  46. The author has clarity in his words. Although there are a little too many words, I can still see his points very well. A great and helpful (to me) job.

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  47. Thanks for keeping your archives available (as you suggest in the article). I’m obviously a lagger, but I appreciate the article. Very nice.

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  48. I’m working up to a bit of weaving, now I have leisure.

    This article is clear and helpful, and I shall be guided by it.

    The “Living Web” is like a guilt-free version of those Christmas letters we all hate. Guilt-free because we don’t send it to anyone, but anyone can read it; and if we make it interesting, maybe someone will.

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  49. The best tips on web writing, and general writing for that matter, that I have ever seen. Mr. Bernstein, the next time you are in Philadelphia, I would love to feed you and introduce you to interesting people.

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  50. wow.. at first everything aformentioned seemed very obvious, but after a thorough read, there are deeper meanings buried within it. I’ve had my personal website since 1999. What started out as a journal of my adventurous dating life turned into a daily chore. So i stopped completely, and needless to say, to many of my reader’s disappointment. Through the years i have tried to start it up again. but always running into the same wall. Lately I decided to try yet again. And decided to write about deeper things in life, i mean, after all, i AM getting older.

    THis article has cemented my desire to make my efforts last. I will surely re-read it when the next time i hit the wall.

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