excerpt from Chapter Seven
Editing and Publishing Guidelines

Copyright © Marc Millon 1999


The Rhetoric of Hypertext

Editing and Publishing


How to order

Other books by Marc and Kim Millon



Design, navigation and overall appearance

Add meta-information to a hypertext document

Register with search engines – helping users to find your site

Give credit; don’t plagiarise

Acceptable content

Precisely because the web makes it so very easy to publish instantly, it is also now never easier to publish sloppy and error strewn work. By contrast, the act of putting words to print, like that of carving them literally in stone, has always entailed a certain unspoken commitment to their permanency, to their importance. The very effort involved in producing a book, magazine, or even in-house brochure, not to mention the production costs, has always entailed that considerable effort is devoted to eliminating errors, factual, grammatical, and typographical or mechanical. I still remember well the days when an author received so-called galley proofs, long sheets of undesigned text, the first stage of seeing typescript transformed into typeset print. With galleys, sent to editor as well as author, the author had a relative degree of freedom to make even fairly substantial changes. Then followed first page and sometimes second page proofs. By the time the latter came around, the work had been, or should have been, gone over with a fairly fine toothed comb, and it was imperative that only the most necessary changes were carried out at this stage since it entailed considerable addition to production costs – the addition of a sentence or even just a few words could entail changes to pagination.

Today even in the world of print, such thoughtful stages, once part of a book’s production cycle, may no longer be carried out. The technology now exists in theory to go direct from author’s disk to printer’s plate, and as exciting as this prospect is, it inevitably means that some of the basic editorial tasks and intermediate and final stages of proofing will be lost, to the possible detriment of the finished work.

Similarly, it is easy when publishing on the web to overlook some of the basic tasks that are, or at least should be, part of any editorial project. Many of the same rules apply to publishing on the web as to publishing in print, yet it is disappointing how often they seem to be disregarded. Perhaps because the medium is so new, and because it represents such a different approach to publishing, content creators and publishers alike often seem more than happy to let poorly written copy find its way on to the web.

Most web editing programs may have spell checking programs which ought to be used as a matter of habit (though check to make sure the dictionary is English, American or whatever your requirements). Text furthermore needs to be copy-edited not simply to ensure that it is well written and free of errors, but also to ensure that it is structured most effectively for the web, bearing in mind some of the suggestions given above. And attention should be given to such typographic design matters as consistency of type size, typeface, headings and sub-headings.

Editing web site content, furthermore, entails more than simply editing the body copy. Because each web document is an HTML document, it is equally important to ensure that the HTML as well as any additional javascripts or other such material is correct and working on your chosen browser platform. If you become proficient at writing pure HTML then you can probably edit the source code yourself, but most will wish to use an HTML validator, either on a web text editor (such as BBEdit for Mac users), or by running the HTML through an automatic checker on the web itself.

Since a hypertext document, by its very nature, is linked to other hypertext documents, it is essential to check all internal and external links to ensure that they are functioning correctly. These are all part of the web copy editor’s tasks.

Design, navigation and overall appearance
It is essential to remember that the actual appearance of your web site as it is seen by the end user will inevitably remain to a great extent outside of your control. Users’ prefererences relating to typefaces, type sizes, spacing, colour of links, whether or not they are underlined, even whether or not images are displayed, and many other such variables (the hardware configuration of the users’ system, whether mouse or keyboard driven, monitor size, etc.) means that all your careful design work might well count for little or nothing. One of the great benefits of HTML is its capacity to distribute material regardless of computer platform and system requirements and it is thus at its heart since conception a content-, not appearance-oriented format. There is little the content creator can do about this except beware of the pitfalls.

Notably, it is especially important to test a web site in different browser versions. Netscape and Internet Explorer, at the time of writing, may have virtually cornered the browser market, but there are still many people using early versions of both. Netscape 1.0 and 2.0 and early versions of Internet Explorer do not support java or javascript, for example. Tables often display differently. Background colours may not be supported. Some tags are not supported in early versions such as those used to centre text.

If you only test on the latest browser versions, or those that you yourself use, then you won’t really have any idea of how the same material will appear on many other browsers and computers. Mosaic, Lynx, Opera and other alternative browsers are still in use, while new browsers for hand-held appliances are appearing or set to appear in the very near future. It’s not just the browser software that has an impact on web appearance, either. PCs may render colours and default type altogether differently than Apple Macintosh computers.

The content creator and editor must be aware of such factors and try to conceptualise how a site will look in different configurations and set ups. Web TV will furthermore result in users sitting considerably further away from the screen than from a computer monitor. So the caveat is, always test on different browsers and platforms, then test again and again. And always give consideration to your various users’ requirements and expectations, now and in the future.

Add meta-information to a hypertext document
It is important that the writer of a hypertext document is equally aware that a number of invisible text elements need to be added to a web site, especially to assist the user in locating a site as well as to assist robot search engines in finding and cataloging a site and its collection of documents.

Every document, for example, needs to have a title, as indicated by the <TITLE> tag element. Such titles, furthermore, ought to be absolute, not relative to a web site. When a browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer displays a hypertext document, the title of that document appears at the top bar of the browser window; if the user bookmarks that document for future reference, it is stored under this title name. It is important therefore to choose titles that accurately reflect and if possible summarise the contents of the page. Subsequent page titles in a web site should be absolute not relative so that in instances where users choose to bookmark a page, the title will be comprehensible (for example ‘Teotihuacan Ceramics index’ rather than simply ‘Index’ or even ‘Ceramics index’).

Some search directories utilise the opening text on a web site’s Index or Welcome page to extract key words and site description. Many, however, depend on the invisible <META> tags that sit at the top of a HTML document so before registering, it is essential to give considerable thought to these tags. Particular attention therefore needs to be given to the following, inserting your own particular content within the "":



Choose keywords with care, considering how potential visitors to your site might find you if using a search engine (what keywords they would type in?), and include all possibilities. Different <META> tag key word content and descriptions should be used for each different page or section of a web site, if relevant.

Register with search engines – helping users to find your site
One of the most important production tasks in web site creation is registration with search engines and directories. This must be done systematically so that the site you so painstakingly and carefully created can be found by any and all who are interested in it. It is essential therefore to devote considerable attention to registering with the principal search directories and robot search engines. The actual task of registering sites with these useful and highly visited site directories can be a laborious and time consuming one. There are services that will undertake registration and site submission for you, though in my experience, it may still be best to go through the main directories one by one, manually following their particular requirements and procedures and selecting the most precise categories that are most relevant to your needs.

Before registering with a search directory, therefore, it is always worth spending some time exploring how that directory is organised. Try it out, check out sites that are similar in content to yours, see which categories and sub-directories they come under, and give considerable thought to your description, keywords, and, perhaps most important of all, from where or how a user is likely to search for a site such as yours. Then, only once you have a clear strategy for attracting users (and have included the <META> tags in your site as outlined above), register manually with each of the main directories. And remember, once you have registered a site, it may not be easy to change your entry, so it is worth getting it right the first time.

In addition to registering with search directories, there are a number of What’s New announcement pages to whom you should submit your site, as well as numerous web awards. In order to be considered, it is merely necessary to spend some time checking out those which are most relevant to your content and then informing them of your site’s URL.

Another way to promote your web site is to subscribe to relevant newsgroups or e-mail discussion lists; become an active member of these communities, include your signature together with your web site URL on any postings, and whenever relevant, point people to pages on your site that may contain information that is of use to them. And of course, don’t forget to include your web site URL address on all printed material, including letterheads, visiting cards, bills.

Give credit; don’t plagiarise
No writer in any medium, it goes without saying, should ever consider stealing material from others or using or quoting material without giving it due credit. There seems to be something about the web, however, indeed about the very nature of hypertext documents, that positively encourages, what shall we say, the sharing of material between one another.

On the web, there can be fine lines between linking and plagiarising. The use of frames in particular can cause problems wherein material created by others can be opened within a new window and presented in such a convincing manner as to seem part of a different site altogether. Honesty and integrity are as important on the web as they are in traditional publishing and pirates who steal others’ copyright material for their own use or profit should rightly be regarded as the parasites of the industry. If you are offering extensive links to other sites, always make clear what you are doing and where you are coming from, and above all give credit where it is due.

Acceptable content
For those who believe in freedom of speech on the web, then naturally there are certain obligations imposed on the responsible content creator to ensure that that which is published is acceptable within the broadest confines of decency. Unspoken codes of conduct have emerged, and are emerging still. The Internet in its earliest days was strictly non-commercial, for example, and though the web has changed all that, most newsgroups still consider the posting of blatant commercial messages, a practice known as ‘spamming’, to be unacceptable.

Naturally the definition of what is acceptable and unacceptable regarding web content varies considerably from individual to individual. But as human beings, surely we ought to inhabit some common moral ground. Certainly there is a great deal of gratuitous obscenity and pornography on the web, but so is there in the real world. Where the web is at its most dangerous is not simply as the purveyor of offensive material, but rather, much more dangerously, through its interactive and community-building capacities, those same powers which we elsewhere applaud as a powerful feature of the new medium. Thus, those obscene sites and user groups that encourage the creation of communities that revel and traffic in paedophilia and the sharing of child pornography must be universally shunned, I imagine, by most decent human beings. Similarly, those web sites that serve as an active and literal call to arms for extremists, racists, bigots, terrorists, football hooligans and the like are abusing the power of the medium for unacceptable ends.

It is sometimes hard to draw the line as to what is acceptable and what is not. On the one hand, we may applaud the use of the web as a medium for rallying support for freedom fighters. But what about its use by those sectors or sections of society whose beliefs and values we don’t share? Right wing militia, criminals, child abusers, bigots and racists, anti-western fundamentalist terrorists? Is it fair to celebrate the power of the medium only when we agree with what it is being used for?

The right to freedom of expression and the control over the dissemination of dangerous and unacceptable content are difficult issues that we as content creators and users of the web must consider deeply, searching our own consciences as we grope to find a middle way that does the least harm.


Rhetoric of hypertext


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