The Presentation of Information

[ Home ] The Web is different from paper.

Writing for paper is often a process of elimination, removing information that some readers would want, in order not to overtax the slightly interested, and also to avoid an excessively thick book.

On the Web the space which the author may fill is arbitrarily large (effectively infinite), and the potential readership rather larger and more varied.

Usually the best approach is to present several layers, and to slice the writing into small pieces in each layer.

This is the canon of the NHS' NeLH although the practical realisation of this ideal is giving some difficulty. It is one of the weaknesses of NICE that they have essentially failed to present their information in any form that can be easily used in the real time of the consultation - easy for the writers, and a massive waste of time and effort for any readers they attract.

Visions of a Future

Ken Macleod is among the best of the new British SF authors. In "Cosmonaut Keep" he presents the news coverage in a near future world. The protagonist has a special interest in news about Jadey, while the general reader will be satisfied with the first layer of news.

Microcontent and Inverted Pyramids and Papers

"Microcontent " is the term the usabilty guru Jakob Nielsen applies to writing titles for the web and emails. Newspapers have always used headlines to encapsulate the chief point of the story, although on the Web the precision of the headline needs to be higher. The inverted pyramid is the traditional shape of the newspaper story, the opposite of the traditional scientific paper, and exactly the shape adopted by the EBM movement for critical appraisals of topics.

Audit Trails, Accountability and Explanations

A Web document can be constructed to show the reasoning and people behind its various conclusions. For instance a decision can link to the minutes of a meeting at which it was decided, and indeed from the minutes to a recording of that slice of the meeting if we really want to return to a tradition of participatory rather than representative democracy. [linkback: If a meeting is in principle open to all those affected by it, then the only excuse for not making a broadcast and/or recording of it available to those people would be if it was disproportionately expensive, and very easy for them to attend. In a wired world and busy NHS those conditions do not apply.]

Paper documents usually offer limited explanations of the process and detailed work which led to them. Inexperienced officers of immature organisations are prone to issuing orders which might go down better if they were supported by reasoning, but even more so will often have errors which could be corrected quietly if the process was exposed.