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OVC Publishing Guidelines for Print and Mulitmedia About OVCOJP seal: Innovation . Partnerships . Safer Neighborhoods Message From the DirectorOVC Publishing Guidelines for Print and Multimedia NCJ 229712 / March 2010
Submission DeadlinesSubmission RequirementsPublishing ProcessProduct TypesWriting TipsDeveloping an E-Pub
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Developing an E-Pub

Write for the "Scan Reader"

Online audiences tend not to read word for word. Instead, they scan subheads, links, and lists for information that applies specifically to them. Therefore, you should—

Lead With the Main Idea

Place the key overall ideas first on each Web page. Then go into detail. Again, explain the most important details first.

This writing style is often called the inverted pyramid. It ensures that no matter where on the page users stop reading, they will have read the most important information.

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Use Subheads Frequently

Subheads make text more readable and point readers to specific information. This means subheads should be used often (every 1–3 paragraphs), and they should be more specific than "Introduction" or "Project History." Such generic subheads tell online readers little and encourage them to simply scan over the material.

Examples of specific headlines—

  • Crime Victims Demand Compensation
  • Standard Form Streamlines Case Management
  • Effort Targets Schools With High Crime Rates

The most effective subheads provide enough information that reading the section becomes optional. Don't let your readers wander. According to Rachel McAlpine, an online content consultant, online readers "skim the page looking for clues about content. As soon as they have enough clues, they can decide whether to bookmark, download, or print the page—or abandon it forever."

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Use Bulleted Lists To Itemize Information

Effective bulleted lists are brief:

  • Entries are short.
  • Entries are related.
  • Entries briefly describe the type of information their links contain.
  • The list itself is short, generally never longer than the length of the screen.

To shorten a bulleted list that is too long—

  • Combine some bullets, if possible.
  • Reorganize the bullets into several lists.

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