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From the Editors' Association of Canada

Web Sites Need Editors!

By Lu Cormier

Web sites need editors for the same reasons press releases, advertisements, books, newsletters, and magazines do. Internet surfers may not return to a site that has unclear information or a poor layout. They definitely won't return if the links don't work and the last update was two years ago!

Editors think about the impression a Web site makes and use their special skills to help make it look professional - whether the site belongs to a conservative organization or a hot new 'zine.

Language and content

Clear, concise language is just as important on the Internet as in printed copy. For many users, what they find on the home page will determine whether they read on. An editor will therefore
ensure that the brief introduction on this all-important page accurately describes the site and its purpose.

An editor will also check to see that a site contains useful information. A financial institution, for example, should provide a list of products and services while a teen magazine should supply links to other teen sites.

Copyright laws apply to content published on the Internet. An editor will provide advice about the need to seek permission to use material from other sources. An editor can also provide a style guide - a particularly good idea for large sites and those that have several contributors.


Unlike reading printed material, reading and navigating through a Web site is a non-linear experience. An editor will therefore ensure that the site is not confusing and that visitors can easily find what they're looking for.

An editor will ensure that the site is structured for fast scanning. Short paragraphs with key information work best online, especially on the home page. An editor will also identify locations where links would be the most helpful, and point out where to eliminate unnecessary links.

A consistent layout will help to orient readers as they follow their own pathways. For example, an online bookseller or publisher with a large inventory will probably retain a search button on each screen so readers can always have easy access to book information.

When readers return to a site, they expect to see updated information that is presented in the site's particular visual style. A site's "look," along with the proper use of logos and graphics, ensures that users will not forget where they are, where they've been, and where they have yet to go.

If a site is large, an editor might suggest a site map to provide an overview of the site and help users move quickly to a specific location.

Let's get technical

An editor doesn't have to know HTML to edit a site, but will usually know the key terminology and understand the limitations of scripting and browser software. Knowing that some users have browsers that are text-based only, an editor will ensure that all graphics are identified using alt tags (alternative text strings) and that text links are provided as alternatives to image maps and icons.

An editor will verify that each page is appropriately titled to match the text. The title that readers see when they bookmark a site should make it easy for them to remember what the site is about. For example, the bookmark title "Research-It! Your one-stop reference desk" reminds users that this is a place to go for online dictionaries, thesauruses, and translators.

An editor will ensure that the site doesn't do funny things like duplicate or delete a paragraph or chart, and will test buttons and calculators to see that they actually work and provide the desired information. If the Web site is linked to external sites, an editor will check to see that those sites provide relevant and up-to-date information and, if not, will recommend deleting them.

Editors are professional communicators. They can help you produce a polished and effective Web site that clearly and accurately conveys your message.


Lu Cormier is a freelance editor in Toronto and a member of the Editors' Association of Canada/Association canadienne des redacteurs-reviseurs.

Published in Sources, Number 42, Summer 1998.


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