Crimes against content

Having signed off on countless web pages & prepared many files for printing I’ve come to recognise it’s often the same problems being picked up over & over again.

Why? Awareness. The people creating the content are often not specialists in content creation or management. Let’s have a look at what some of these problems are & how easy they are to avoid:

Grammatical issues

Often writers have personal blind-spots in their writing style. A good editor can usually pick these out & run global checks to fix them. For example, you might always use ‘try and …’ rather than ‘try to … ‘

Another pet hate is using a singular subject but a plural pronoun (e.g. ‘See your advisor (sing) & they’ll (plural) be able to…’). Gender-aligned singular pronouns (he or she) are awkward to apply to a gender-neutral subject. But that’s no excuse!

A few other common issues include:

  • Capitalisation for emphasis & over-use of proper nouns (the effect is very grandiose but it doesn’t help readability)
  • Non-parallel punctuation of bullet lists (all points should follow same grammatical structure)
  • Consistent use of spellings, hyphenation & house styles (dashes, etc)
  • Repetition & passive sentence structure.

Content management

There are a lot of common issues when content is entered into templates for publishing too. In print, consistent styles need to be applied & page/paragraph length massaged to fit constraints.

It’s interesting that when preparing an Annual Report or newsletter it’s accepted that writers supply content to a graphic artist who will manage content in the publication. With websites a lot of people still believe if they can paste from Word, they can publish.

In truth, they often need protection from themselves. Here’s where that approach regularly falls down:

  • Failure to use image alt tags
  • Failure to understand accessibility compliance (misuse of tables, moving text, or failure to supply alternatives to inaccessible multimedia)
  • No meta tags (or poor, duplicate content used)
  • Poor page titles (too long, not keyword focused)
  • Text pasted from Word (with default font & margin & numerous other HTML tags included accidentally)
  • Incorrect linking paths (attempting to link to network drives or local machines or simply not using http:// in their links)
  • Failure to follow file naming protocols (creating mess & sub-optimal SEO). Includes page titles over 30 characters that are too long to be supported
  • Using big fonts instead of nested headings
  • No cross linking or wrong cross linking (e.g. using trailing slash at end of URL, causing duplicate pages, or using inappropriate anchor text)
  • Renaming files without thought to breaking existing links
  • Creating pages with nothing on them, resulting in a deep site structure
  • Uploading monster images of several MB & limiting display size in HTML, creating long page load times & pixelated results.

The worst

Of course, these are all minor issues. A lot of web content management involves, not majoring in minors but ensuring details are taken care of so little problems don’t start to entangle a site.

The worst crime of all, is failing to ensure an adequate sign-off process is in place – no matter what format you publish in. If it’s print, ensure you use a good editor, proofreader or ideally both.

If it’s web, make sure an experienced content manager is involved.

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