Section 17.1. Top of the Tips

The most important tip for even veteran authors is to surf the Web for yourself. We can show and explain a few neat tricks to get you started, but there are thousands of authors out there combining and recombining HTML and XHTML tags and juggling content to create compelling and useful documents.

Examine (don't steal) others' pages for eye-catching and effective features, and use them to guide your own creations. Get a feel for the more effective web collections. How are their documents organized? How large is each document?

We all learn from experience, so go get it!

17.1.1 Design for Your Audience

We continuously argue throughout this book that content matters most, not look. But that doesn't mean presentation doesn't matter.

Effective documents match your target audience's expectations, giving them a familiar environment in which to explore and gather information. Serious academicians, for instance, expect a journal-like appearance for a treatise on the physiology of the kumquat: long on meaningful words, figures, and diagrams and short on frivolous trappings like cute bullets and font abuse. Don't insult the reader's eye, except when exercising artistic license to jar or in order to attack your reader's sensibilities.

By anticipating your audience and designing your documents to appeal to their tastes, you also subtly deflect unwanted surfers from your pages. Undesirables, such as penniless college students surfing your commercial site,[1] may hog your server's resources and prevent the buying audience you desire from ready access to your pages.

[1] Not that there's anything wrong with that. We both started out as penniless college students and, years later, wound up writing for O'Reilly.

You can use subtle colors and muted text transitions between sections for a classical art museum's collection, to mimic the hushed environment of a real classical art museum. The typical rock-'n'-roll crazed web-surfer maniac probably won't take more than a glance at your site, but the millionaire arts patron might.

Also, use effective layout to gently guide your readers' eyes to areas of interest in your documents. Do that by adhering to the basic rules of document layout and design, such as placing figures and diagrams near (if not inline with) their content references. Nothing's worse than having to scroll up and down the browser window in a desperate search for a picture that can explain everything.

We won't lie and suggest that we're design experts. We aren't, but they're not hard to find. So, another tip for the serious web page author is to seek professional help. The best situation is to have design experience yourself. Next best is to have a pro looking over your shoulder, or at least somewhere within earshot.

Make a trip to your local library and do some reading on your own, too. Better yet, browse the various online guides. Check out Web Design in a Nutshell by Jennifer Niederst (O'Reilly). Your readers will be glad you did. [Section 1.6]

17.1.2 Consistent Documents

The next best tip we can give you is to reuse your documents. Don't start from scratch each time. Rather, develop a consistent framework, even to the point of a content outline into which you add the detail and character for each page. And endeavor to create CSS2-based style sheets, so that the look and feel of your documents remains consistent across your collection.