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Text composition

Most commentators agree that longer texts on websites are inadvisable (cf. Price and Price 2002: 85-95), with the exception of, for instance, online newspapers, blogs and scholarly sites. According to web specialists, text should be presented according to the principle of progressive disclosure (i.e. progress from the general to the particular). However, this requires qualification. The principle of the inverted pyramid borrowed from journalism is by no means universal (cf. Jakobs and Lehnen 2005: 180); it may apply to news, but not to instructions.

Textuality on websites typically displays a high degree of pre-determination owing to background (software) technology. Even the earliest HTML codes (e.g.,

to ) aimed at strong visual segmentation through (sub)titles. Yet simply “[g]oing through existing content and putting in a heading every so often does not produce good information” (Redish 2012:168). Continued expansion and, above all, CMS systems in which key decisions on text structure are taken in advance, at system management level, have led to further widen the range of ready-made text modules. One classic example is the FAQ section; initially a straightforward list of questions and answers, this now often displays the questions only, the corresponding answers being revealed by clicking. The same principle has been transferred to the text level in the form of an “accordion”, in which, for instance, subheadings are expanded into longer texts by clicking. Another variant on text segmentation is to place some elements (e.g., supplementary information) in separate boxes. For compact content providing clarification at a specific point (e.g., in running text or on a map), layers make efficient display formats, above all because the main page remains visible (Redish 2012:140). Here, linguistics raises the question of text types. Regarding these as communicative devices associated with particular functions highlights their close connection with technical structure. Jakobs and Lehnen (2005: 166) stress that hypertext types tend strongly to be polythematic, that is, to combine several sub-topics under one thematically overarching roof. The result is a nested structure, in which entities can be integrated at various levels. From a general perspective, smaller units tend to form building blocks, although they can also be classified as text types. On the basis of practical knowledge, scenario-based entities such as virtual shops (cf. Handler 1998:144-146) can achieve strong pragmatic coherence (and also create expectations about the way the site operates). Given the very different communication configurations involved, it seems sensible to draw text-type boundaries between websites, newsletters, (micro)blogs, video portals, social platforms and so on, while establishing interconnections between the types. Conversely, hybrid forms of usage may be identified within a single type, e.g., the WordPress blog service, which is also used to create websites. One technical special case is that of pdf documents. Not in principle part of the display level of websites, these can be regarded as de facto print texts that are distributed via the internet. Redish (2012: 120-121) sees the use of pdfs as justified in situations that demand the form of a printed document but where transmission via the web is chosen for cost reasons or because access is more convenient for users (permanent retrievability, no physical effort). However, pdfs are not suitable for displaying large bundles of information, of which only specific details may interest the user. Moreover, smartphone displays are totally unsuited to pdfs.

 
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