Respect my authority!

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Although I found many of the webtext editing guidelines in Kilian, ch. 5, helpful, there was one that irked me a little.  Tip number 6 is "Don't Respect the Text."  Boiled down to its basic intent, this tip advises webwriters to not be afraid of cutting their print text down to its basic meaning in order to facilitate its purpose on the web.  And I agree with this idea; I think text written for print and other traditional mediums should be simplified for the web.  This will help increase reader understanding for an international audience, and therefore spur the two-way and action-oriented communication that Kilian stresses is at the true core of writing for the web.

However, there's something in describing this process as "disrespect" that bothers me.  Kilian says that we, as a society, "revere text too much.  It gives us a dangerous readiness to dump print-for-paper onto a website and think we've done our job."  He's right that webwriters shouldn't blatantly copy print text onto the web, but really, should we "disrespect" the text?  Is that the correct word for what he means?  We should work with the text, revise it, change its package while keeping the basic message...but disrespect it?

Later Kilian says, "Maybe you feel awkward about disrespecting the text, but what's really important is that you give utmost respect to the visitors who have honored you with their presence on your site...their needs come first."  Point taken.  Visitors should get a healthy portion of a webwriter's respect and they should play the largest role in deciding the organization and content of a site.  But I think Kilian should show some respect to traditional print text, web text, and website visitors alike; they all deserve respect.  It's a bit of a stretch, but without traditional forms of writing we never could have gotten to the point of writing for the web, so shouldn't print text always get some respect?

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2 Comments

I think you're right, Jackie. I felt the same way while reading this because I think revising the text is a much better idea than disrespecting it.

(I feel like we just made text into a person.) Anyway, though I do agree with Kilian and the reader's needs should come first, I think editing the text to do that is a better way to put it.

Well, I think that's just another way to give the lesson "Murder your darlings!" That means, don't fall in love with your own writing so much that you can't bear to cut it when it's too flowery or distracting.

http://www.sfwa.org/writing/murder.htm

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