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9 How to Write a Book Were you recently inspired to write a book after reading Owen Gregory’s compendium of author insights? Maybe so inspired to strike out on your own and self-publish? Based on personal experience, writing a book is hard. It requires a great deal of research, experience, and patience. To be able to consolidate your thoughts and what you’ve learned into a sensible and readable tome is an admirable feat. To decide to self-publish and take on yourself all of the design, printing, distribution, and so much more is tantamount to insanity. Again, based on personal experience. So, why might you want to self-publish? If you’ve spent many a late night doing cross-browser testing just to know that your site works flawlessly in twenty-four different browsers — including Mosaic, of course — then maybe you’ll understand the fun that comes from doing it all. Working with a publisher, you’re left to focus on one core thing: writing. That’s a good thing. A good publisher has the right resources to help you get your idea polished and the distribution network to get your book on store shelves around the world. It’s a very proud moment to be able to walk into a book store and see your book sitting there on the shelf. Self-publishing can also be a wonderful process as you get to own it from beginning to end. Every decision is yours and if you’re a control freak like me, this can be a very rewarding experience. While there are many aspects to self-publishing, I’m going to speak to just one of them: creating an ebook. Formats In creating an ebook, you first need to decide what formats you wish to support. There are three main formats, each with their own pros and cons: PDF EPUB MOBI PDFs are supported on almost every device (Windows, Mac, Kindle, iPad, Android, etc.) and can even be a stepping stone to creating a print version of your book. PDFs allow for full typographic and design control, but at the cost of needing to fit things into a predefined page layout. Is it US Letter or A4? Or is it a format that isn’t easily… 2013 Jonathan Snook jonathansnook 2013-12-19T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/how-to-write-a-book/ content
19 In Their Own Write: Web Books and their Authors The currency of written communication — words on the page, words on the screen — comprises many denominations. To further our ends in web design and development, we freely spend and receive several: tweets aphoristic and trenchant, banal and perfunctory; blog posts and articles that call us to action or reflection; anecdotes, asides, comments, essays, guides, how-tos, manuals, musings, notes, opinions, stories, thoughts, tips pro and not-so-pro. So many, many words. Our industry (so much more than this, but what on earth are we, collectively?), our community thrives on writing and sharing knowledge and experience. 24 ways is a case in point. Everyone can learn and contribute through reading and writing — it’s what we’ve always done. To web authors and readers seeking greater returns, though, broader culture has vouchsafed an enduring and singular artefact: the book. Last month I asked a small sample of web book authors if they would be prepared to answer a few questions; most of them kindly agreed. In spirit, the survey was informal: I had neither hypothesis nor unground axe. I work closely with writers — and yes, I’ve edited or copy-edited books by several of the authors I surveyed — and wanted to share their thoughts about what it was like to write a book (“…it was challenging to find a coherent narrative”), why they did it (“Who wouldn’t want to?”) and what they learned from the experience (“That I could!”). Reasons for writing a book In web development the connection between authors and readers is unusually close and immediate. Working in our medium precipitates a unity that’s rare elsewhere. Yet writing and publishing a book, even during the current books revolution, is something only a few of us attempt and it remains daunting and a little remote. What spurs an author to try it? For some, it’s a deeply held resistance to prevailing trends: I felt that designers and developers needed to be shaken out of what seemed to me had been years of stagnation. —Andrew Clarke Or even a desire to protect us from… 2013 Owen Gregory owengregory 2013-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/web-books/ content
24 Kill It With Fire! What To Do With Those Dreaded FAQs In the mid-1640s, a man named Matthew Hopkins attempted to rid England of the devil’s influence, primarily by demanding payment for the service of tying women to chairs and tossing them into lakes. Unsurprisingly, his methods garnered criticism. Hopkins defended himself in The Discovery of Witches in 1647, subtitled “Certaine Queries answered, which have been and are likely to be objected against MATTHEW HOPKINS, in his way of finding out Witches.” Each “querie” was written in the voice of an imagined detractor, and answered in the voice of an imagined defender (always referring to himself as “the discoverer,” or “him”): Quer. 14. All that the witch-finder doth is to fleece the country of their money, and therefore rides and goes to townes to have imployment, and promiseth them faire promises, and it may be doth nothing for it, and possesseth many men that they have so many wizzards and so many witches in their towne, and so hartens them on to entertaine him. Ans. You doe him a great deale of wrong in every of these particulars. Hopkins’ self-defense was an early modern English FAQ. Digital beginnings Question and answer formatting certainly isn’t new, and stretches back much further than witch-hunt days. But its most modern, most notorious, most reviled incarnation is the internet’s frequently asked questions page. FAQs began showing up on pre-internet mailing lists as a way for list members to answer and pre-empt newcomers’ repetitive questions: The presumption was that new users would download archived past messages through ftp. In practice, this rarely happened and the users tended to post questions to the mailing list instead of searching its archives. Repeating the “right” answers becomes tedious… When all the users of a system can hear all the other users, FAQs make a lot of sense: the conversation needs to be managed and manageable. FAQs were a stopgap for the technological limitations of the time. But the internet moved past mailing lists. Online information can be stored, searched,… 2013 Lisa Maria Martin lisamariamartin 2013-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2013/what-to-do-with-faqs/ content
43 Content Production Planning While everyone agrees that getting the content of a website right is vital to its success, unless you’re lucky enough to have an experienced editor or content strategist on board, planning content production often seems to fall through the cracks. One reason is that, for most of the team, it feels like someone else’s problem. Not necessarily a specific person’s problem. Just someone else’s. It’s only when everyone starts urgently asking when the content is going to be ready, that it becomes clear the answer is, “Not as soon as we’d like it”. The good news is that there are some quick and simple things you can do, even if you’re not the official content person on a project, to get everyone on the same content planning page. Content production planning boils down to answering three deceptively simple questions: What content do you need? How much of it do you need? Who’s going to make it? Even if it’s not your job to come up with the answers, by asking these questions early enough and agreeing who is going to come up with the answers, you’ll be a long way towards avoiding the last-minute content problems which so often plague projects. How much content do we need? People tend to underestimate two crucial things about content: how much content they need, and how long that content takes to produce. When I ask someone how big their website is – how many pages it contains – I usually double or triple the answer I get. That’s because almost everyone’s mental model of their website greatly underestimates its true size. You can see the problem for yourself if you look at a site map. Site maps are great at representing a mental model of a website. But because they’re a deliberate simplification they naturally lead us to underestimate how much content is involved in populating them. Several years ago I was asked to help a client create a new microsite (their word) which they wanted ready in two weeks for a conference they were attending. Here’s the site map they had in mind. At first glance it looks like a pret… 2014 Sophie Dennis sophiedennis 2014-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2014/content-production-planning/ content
57 Cooking Up Effective Technical Writing Merry Christmas! May your preparations for this festive season of gluttony be shaping up beautifully. By the time you read this I hope you will have ordered your turkey, eaten twice your weight in Roses/Quality Street (let’s not get into that argument), and your Christmas cake has been baked and is now quietly absorbing regular doses of alcohol. Some of you may be reading this and scoffing Of course! I’ve also made three batches of mince pies, a seasonal chutney and enough gingerbread men to feed the whole street! while others may be laughing Bake? Oh no, I can’t cook to save my life. For beginners, recipes are the step-by-step instructions that hand-hold us through the cooking process, but even as a seasoned expert you’re likely to refer to a recipe at some point. Recipes tell us what we need, what to do with it, in what order, and what the outcome will be. It’s the documentation behind our ideas, and allows us to take the blueprint for a tasty morsel and to share it with others so they can recreate it. In fact, this is a little like the open source documentation and tutorials that we put out there, similarly aiming to guide other developers through our creations. The ‘just’ification of documentation Lately it feels like we’re starting to consider the importance of our words, and the impact they can have on others. Brad Frost warned us of the dangers of “Just” when it comes to offering up solutions to queries: “Just use this software/platform/toolkit/methodology…” “Just” makes me feel like an idiot. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word. “Just” by Brad Frost I can really empathise with these sentiments. My relationship with code started out as many good web tales do, with good old HTML, CSS and JavaScript. University years involved some time with Perl, PHP, Java and C. In my first job I worked primarily with ColdFusion, a bit of ActionScri… 2015 Sally Jenkinson sallyjenkinson 2015-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2015/cooking-up-effective-technical-writing/ content
87 Content Planning Demystified The first thing you learn as a junior editor is that you can’t do everything yourself. You must rely on someone else to do at least part of what must be done: the long-range planning, the initial drafting or shooting or recording, the editing, the production, the final polish. All of those pieces of work that belong to someone else take quite a lot of time — days, weeks, sometimes months. If you’re the sort of person who wrote college term papers the night before they were due, this can come as a bit of a shock. To my twenty-two-year-old self, it certainly did. It turns out that the only real way to avoid a trainwreck with editorial work is to get ahead of the trouble, line everything up carefully, and leave oodles of room for all the pieces to connect on time. The same is true of content strategy, content planning, and just about everything to do with content on the web, except for the writing itself — and that, too, usually takes far longer than anyone expects. If you’re not a professional editor and you suddenly find yourself dealing with content creation, you’re almost certainly going to underestimate the time and effort involved, or to skip something important in the planning process that pops up to bite you later. Without good content, it doesn’t matter how well designed or coded your web project is, because it won’t be doing the thing it’s meant to do. And even if content is far from your specialty, you may well end up being the only one willing to coordinate it far enough in advance to avoid a chaotic ending. Whether you’re hiring writers and editors for a big project, working with a small client, or coaxing some editorial help out of a co-worker, getting the planning work done correctly — and ahead of time — will allow you to orchestrate a glorious ballet of togetherness, instead of feverishly scraping together something to put on your site when the deadline looms. So get out the graph paper and the pocket protector, because we’re going to go Full Nerd on this problem. Know your poison Anyone who’s… 2012 Erin Kissane erinkissane 2012-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2012/content-planning-demystified/ content
172 The Construction of Instruction If the world were made to my specifications, all your clients would be happy to pay for a web writer to craft every sentence into something as elegant as it was functional, and the client would have planned the content so that you had it just when you asked, but we both know that won’t happen every time. Sometimes you just know they are going to write the About page, two company blog pages and a Facebook fan page before resigning their position as chief content writer and you are going to end up filling in all the details that will otherwise just be Lorem Ipsum. Welcome to the big world of microcopy: A man walks into a bar. The bartender nods a greeting and watches as the man scans the bottles behind the bar. “Er, you have a lot of gin here. Is there one you would recommend?” “Yes sir.” Long pause. “… Never mind, I’ll have the one in the green bottle.” “Certainly, sir. But you can’t buy it from this part of the bar. You need to go through the double doors there.” “But they look like they lead into the kitchen.” “Really, sir? Well, no, that’s where we allow customers to purchase gin.” The man walks through the doors. On the other side he is greeted by the same bartender. “Y-you!” he stammers but the reticent bartender is now all but silent. Unnerved, the man points to a green bottle, “Er, I’d like to buy a shot of that please. With ice and tonic water.” The bartender mixes the drink and puts it on the bar just out of the reach of the man and looks up. “Um, do you take cards?” the man asks, ready to present his credit card. The bartender goes to take the card to put it through the machine. “Wait! How much was it – with sales tax and everything? Do you take a gratuity?” The bartender simply shrugs. The man eyes him for a moment and decides to try his luck at the bar next door. In the Choose Your Own Adventure version of this story there are plenty of ways to stop the man giving up. You could let him buy the gin right where he was; you could make the price more obvious; you could signpost the pla… 2009 Relly Annett-Baker rellyannettbaker 2009-12-08T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2009/the-construction-of-instruction/ content
198 Is Your Website Accidentally Sexist? Women make up 51% of the world’s population. More importantly, women make 85% of all purchasing decisions about consumer goods, 75% of the decisions about buying new homes, and 81% of decisions about groceries. The chances are, you want your website to be as attractive to women as it is to men. But we are all steeped in a male-dominated culture that subtly influences the design and content decisions we make, and some of those decisions can result in a website that isn’t as welcoming to women as it could be. Typography tells a story Studies show that we make consistent judgements about whether a typeface is masculine or feminine: Masculine typography has a square or geometric form with hard corners and edges, and is emphatically either blunt or spiky. Serif fonts are also considered masculine, as is bold type and capitals. Feminine typography favours slim lines, curling or flowing shapes with a lot of ornamentation and embellishment, and slanted letters. Sans-serif, cursive and script fonts are seen as feminine, as are lower case letters. The effect can be so subtle that even choosing between bold and regular styles within a single font family can be enough to indicate masculinity or femininity. If you want to appeal to both men and women, search for fonts that are gender neutral, or at least not too masculine. When you’re choosing groups of fonts that need to work harmoniously together, consider which fonts you are prioritising in your design. Is the biggest word on the page in a masculine or feminine font? What about the smallest words? Is there an imbalance between the prominence of masculine and feminine fonts, and what does this imply? Typography is a language in and of itself, so be careful what you say with it. Colour me unsurprised Colour also has an obvious gender bias. We associate pinks and purples, especially in combination, with girls and women, and a soft pink has become especially strongly related to breast cancer awareness campaigns. On the other hand, pale blue is strongly associated with boy… 2017 Suw Charman-Anderson suwcharmananderson 2017-12-20T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2017/is-your-website-accidentally-sexist/ content
227 A Contentmas Epiphany The twelve days of Christmas fall between 25 December, Christmas Day, and 6 January, the Epiphany of the Kings. Traditionally, these have been holidays and a lot of us still take a good proportion of these days off. Equally, a lot of us have a got a personal site kicking around somewhere that we sigh over and think, “One day I’ll sort you out!” Why not take this downtime to give it a big ol’ refresh? I know, good idea, huh? HEY WAIT! WOAH! NO-ONE’S TOUCHING PHOTOSHOP OR DOING ANY CSS FANCYWORK UNTIL I’M DONE WITH YOU! Be honest, did you immediately think of a sketch or mockup you have tucked away? Or some clever little piece of code you want to fiddle with? Now ask yourself, why would you start designing the container if you haven’t worked out what you need to put inside? Anyway, forget the content strategy lecture; I haven’t given you your gifts yet. I present The Twelve Days of Contentmas! This is a simple little plan to make sure that your personal site, blog or portfolio is not just looking good at the end of these twelve days, but is also a really useful repository of really useful content. WARNING KLAXON: There are twelve parts, one for each day of Christmas, so this is a lengthy article. I’m not expecting anyone to absorb this in one go. Add to Instapaper. There is no TL;DR for this because it’s a multipart process, m’kay? Even so, this plan of mine cuts corners on a proper applied strategy for content. You might find some aspects take longer than the arbitrary day I’ve assigned. And if you apply this to your company-wide intranet, I won’t be held responsible for the mess. That said, I encourage you to play along and sample some of the practical aspects of organising existing content and planning new content because it is, honestly, an inspiring and liberating process. For one thing, you get to review all the stuff you have put out for the world to look at and see what you could do next. This always leaves me full of ideas on how to plug the gaps I’ve found, so I hope you are similarly motivated come… 2010 Relly Annett-Baker rellyannettbaker 2010-12-21T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2010/a-contentmas-epiphany/ content
251 The System, the Search, and the Food Bank Imagine a warehouse, half the length of a football field, with a looped conveyer belt down the center. On the belt are plastic bins filled with assortments of shelf-stable food—one may have two bags of potato chips, seventeen pudding cups, and a box of tissues; the next, a dozen cans of beets. The conveyer belt is ringed with large, empty cardboard boxes, each labeled with categories like “Bottled Water” or “Cereal” or “Candy.” Such was the scene at my local food bank a few Saturdays ago, when some friends and I volunteered for a shift sorting donated food items. Our job was to fill the labeled cardboard boxes with the correct items nabbed from the swiftly moving, randomly stocked plastic bins. I could scarcely believe my good fortune of assignments. You want me to sort things? Into categories? For several hours? And you say there’s an element of time pressure? Listen, is there some sort of permanent position I could be conscripted into. Look, I can’t quite explain it: I just know that I love sorting, organizing, and classifying things—groceries at a food bank, but also my bookshelves, my kitchen cabinets, my craft supplies, my dishwasher arrangement, yes I am a delight to live with, why do you ask? The opportunity to create meaning from nothing is at the core of my excitement, which is why I’ve tried to build a career out of organizing digital content, and why I brought a frankly frightening level of enthusiasm to the food bank. “I can’t believe they’re letting me do this,” I whispered in awe to my conveyer belt neighbor as I snapped up a bag of popcorn for the Snacks box with the kind of ferocity usually associated with birds of prey. The jumble of donated items coming into the center need to be sorted in order for the food bank to be able to quantify, package, and distribute the food to those who need it (I sense a metaphor coming on). It’s not just a nice-to-have that we spent our morning separating cookies from carrots—it’s a crucial step in the process. Organization makes the difference between chaos and … 2018 Lisa Maria Martin lisamariamartin 2018-12-16T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2018/the-system-the-search-and-the-food-bank/ content
252 Turn Jekyll up to Eleventy Sometimes it pays not to over complicate things. While many of the sites we use on a daily basis require relational databases to manage their content and dynamic pages to respond to user input, for smaller, simpler sites, serving pre-rendered static HTML is usually a much cheaper — and more secure — option. The JAMstack (JavaScript, reusable APIs, and prebuilt Markup) is a popular marketing term for this way of building websites, but in some ways it’s a return to how things were in the early days of the web, before developers started tinkering with CGI scripts or Personal HomePage. Indeed, my website has always served pre-rendered HTML; first with the aid of Movable Type and more recently using Jekyll, which Anna wrote about in 2013. By combining three approachable languages — Markdown for content, YAML for data and Liquid for templating — the ergonomics of Jekyll found broad appeal, influencing the design of the many static site generators that followed. But Jekyll is not without its faults. Aside from notoriously slow build times, it’s also built using Ruby. While this is an elegant programming language, it is yet another ecosystem to understand and manage, and often alongside one we already use: JavaScript. For all my time using Jekyll, I would think to myself “this, but in Node”. Thankfully, one of Santa’s elves (Zach Leatherman) granted my Atwoodian wish and placed such a static site generator under my tree. Introducing Eleventy Eleventy is a more flexible alternative Jekyll. Besides being written in Node, it’s less strict about how to organise files and, in addition to Liquid, supports other templating languages like EJS, Pug, Handlebars and Nunjucks. Best of all, its build times are significantly faster (with future optimisations promising further gains). As content is saved using the familiar combination of YAML front matter and Markdown, transitioning from Jekyll to Eleventy may seem like a reasonable idea. Yet as I’ve discovered, there are a few gotchas. If you’ve been considering making the switch, he… 2018 Paul Lloyd paulrobertlloyd 2018-12-11T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2018/turn-jekyll-up-to-eleventy/ content
275 Context First: Web Strategy in Four Handy Ws Many, many years ago, before web design became my proper job, I trained and worked as a journalist. I studied publishing in London and spent three fun years learning how to take a few little nuggets of information and turn them into a story. I learned a bunch of stuff that has all been a huge help to my design career. Flatplanning, layout, typographic theory. All of these disciplines have since translated really well to web design, but without doubt the most useful thing I learned was how to ask difficult questions. Pretty much from day one of journalism school they hammer into you the importance of the Five Ws. Five disarmingly simple lines of enquiry that eloquently manage to provide the meat of any decent story. And with alliteration thrown in too. For a young journo, it’s almost too good to be true. Who? What? Where? When? Why? It seems so obvious to almost be trite but, fundamentally, any story that manages to answer those questions for the reader is doing a pretty good job. You’ll probably have noticed feeling underwhelmed by certain news pieces in the past – disappointed, like something was missing. Some irritating oversight that really lets the story down. No doubt it was one of the Ws – those innocuous little suckers are generally only noticeable by their absence, but they sure get missed when they’re not there. Question everything I’ve always been curious. An inveterate tinkerer with things and asker of dopey questions, often to the point of abject annoyance for anyone unfortunate enough to have ended up in my line of fire. So, naturally, the Five Ws started drifting into other areas of my life. I’d scrutinize everything, trying to justify or explain my rationale using these Ws, but I’d also find myself ripping apart the stuff that clearly couldn’t justify itself against the same criteria. So when I started working as a designer I applied the same logic and, sure enough, the Ws pretty much mapped to the exact same needs we had for gathering requirements at the start of a project. It seemed so obvi… 2011 Alex Morris alexmorris 2011-12-10T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2011/context-first/ content
287 Extracting the Content As we throw away our canvas in approaches and yearn for a content-out process, there remains a pain point: the Content. It is spoken of in the hushed tones usually reserved for Lord Voldemort. The-thing-that-someone-else-is-responsible-for-that-must-not-be-named. Designers and developers have been burned before by not knowing what the Content is, how long it is, what style it is and when the hell it’s actually going to be delivered, in internet eons past. Warily, they ask clients for it. But clients don’t know what to make, or what is good, because no one taught them this in business school. Designers struggle to describe what they need and when, so the conversation gets put off until it’s almost too late, and then everyone is relieved that they can take the cop-out of putting up a blog and maybe some product descriptions from the brochure. The Content in content out. I’m guessing, as a smart, sophisticated, and, may I say, nicely-scented reader of the honourable and venerable tradition of 24 ways, that you sense something better is out there. Bunches of boxes to fill in just don’t cut it any more in a responsive web design world. The first question is, how are you going to design something to ensure users have the easiest access to the best Content, if you haven’t defined at the beginning what that Content is? Of course, it’s more than possible that your clients have done lots of user research before approaching you to start this project, and have a plethora of finely tuned Content for you to design with. Have you finished laughing yet? Alright then. Let’s just assume that, for whatever reason of gross oversight, this hasn’t happened. What next? Bringing up Content for the first time with a client is like discussing contraception when you’re in a new relationship. It might be awkward and either party would probably rather be doing something else, but it needs to be broached before any action happens (that, and it’s disastrous to assume the other party has the matter in hand). If we can’t talk about it, how … 2011 Relly Annett-Baker rellyannettbaker 2011-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2011/extracting-the-content/ content
291 Information Literacy Is a Design Problem Information literacy, wrote Dr. Carol Kulthau in her 1987 paper “Information Skills for an Information Society,” is “the ability to read and to use information essential for everyday life”—that is, to effectively navigate a world built on “complex masses of information generated by computers and mass media.” Nearly thirty years later, those “complex masses of information” have only grown wilder, thornier, and more constant. We call the internet a firehose, yet we’re loathe to turn it off (or even down). The amount of information we consume daily is staggering—and yet our ability to fully understand it all remains frustratingly insufficient. This should hit a very particular chord for those of us working on the web. We may be developers, designers, or strategists—we may not always be responsible for the words themselves—but we all know that communication is much more than just words. From fonts to form fields, every design decision that we make changes the way information is perceived—for better or for worse. What’s more, the design decisions that we make feed into larger patterns. They don’t just affect the perception of a single piece of information on a single site; they start to shape reader expectations of information anywhere. Users develop cumulative mental models of how websites should be: where to find a search bar, where to look at contact information, how to filter a product list. And yet: our models fail us. Fundamentally, we’re not good at parsing information, and that’s troubling. Our experience of an “information society” may have evolved, but the skills Dr. Kuhlthau spoke of are even more critical now: our lives depend on information literacy. Patterns from words Let’s start at the beginning: with the words. Our choice of words can drastically alter a message, from its emotional resonance to its context to its literal meaning. Sometimes we can use word choice for good, to reinvigorate old, forgotten, or unfairly besmirched ideas. One time at a wedding bbq we labeled the coleslaw BRASSICA MIXTA so… 2016 Lisa Maria Martin lisamariamartin 2016-12-14T00:00:00+00:00 https://24ways.org/2016/information-literacy-is-a-design-problem/ content

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