Web writing: keep it short and pointy

People go to the web for  fast information.

They want concise chunks information that are easy to scan, and objective.

Reading on a plastic computer screen is a different experience to  reading the printed page.  So the rules for web writing are different.

Read Tips for web writing and Reading online – what users want, to sharpen your web writing skills.

From research by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen

Tips for web writing

People use the web for information. These writing tips for you will make their search easier:

  • organize your information
  • use words and categories that make sense to your audience
  • use topic sentences
  • one idea per paragraph
  • provide the right amount of information.

You can’t just throw information up there and clutter up cyberspace. Anybody who makes a website should make the effort to organize the information.

From research by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen

Web users want info fast

Users search the Web for fast information. To make this easier they want:

• text that is easy to scan
• simple, informal writing
• text that is short or broken into small chunks
• summaries and the inverted pyramid writing style,
• links to other websites,
• pictures and graphics that complement to text,
• humour

I prefer informal writing, because I like to read fast. I don’t like reading every word, and with formal writing, you have to read every word, and it slows you down

From research by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen

In the heart of Tasmania’s Tarkine

A wilderness of
ancient forests, contemplative silences – and a devil’s kitchen.

Published: The Australian: Travel: 24 April, 2010

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I AM standing with 11 strangers on the banks of a creek. We brush the soles of our boots, then we hang the brushes on branches.
This eccentric behaviour is to stop predatory fungi, Phytophthora cinnamomi, hitching a ride with us into the rainforest, where it could infect trees.
Ten of us have joined a walking tour with Tarkine Trails, an eco-business focusing on the Tarkine wilderness in northwest Tasmania. It’s all uphill with our backpacks for 30 minutes as we slowly make Tiger Ridge, our standing camp for the first night. It’s the most demanding exercise in our exploration of the Tarkine. During the next six days we will experience wild coasts, ancient rainforests, riverine life and dinner with a Tasmanian devil, all sustained by regional food and wine.

Deep forest: Heading to Tiger Ridge for the first night is a clever idea. Dwarfed by 80m Eucalyptus obliqua, disarmed by the cathedral silence of an enveloping rainforest (punctured every now and then by a squawking yellow-tailed black cockatoo), we are sealed off from the outside world and open to this one.
Our tents are strung along the ridge down various tracks. The forest floor is open, spongy to walk on and flush with green mosses, lichens and fan-like tree ferns. The shelter around the camp’s kitchen is our lounge room. Our guides, Vickie and Emma, are steeped in the ecological world, great cooks and remarkably fit; they are enthusiastic about introducing us to the Tarkine’s diversity.
In the evening, wine bottles are opened, a pit fire is blazing and we pull up wooden stools and chew the fat while scoffing Tasmanian cheeses. We are bonding at a furious rate as we sit at a gigantic wooden table under the trees and the stars eating our first home-cooked meal (pasta with creamy smoked trout).
I smell plunger coffee at 50m next morning and over a fruit-laden breakfast our guides map out the second day: a walk to the Huskisson River. Like expectant children we follow a pink ribbon-marked trail over a forest floor that is in glorious decay and luxuriant growth. You can smell it: fallen trees disintegrate slowly, new trees emerge. Our group becomes fascinated with the smaller worlds within this large temperate rainforest. Miniature mud turrets on the track announce the underground habitat of a minuscule crayfish that finds threads of water to live in. We must keep a sharp eye on the track to avoid tramping on the turrets.
Too soon we are severed from the magic rainforest. We climb into our cosy bus and head to a once-famous mining town.

Tin town: Waratah is now far removed from its late 19th-century heyday as the largest tin deposit in the world. It has a sense of remoteness and is neatly dotted with mining artefacts, including a waterwheel. The local museum sports a stamp mill (a machine that pounded the tin ore) and includes some graphic sepia photos of mining life embossed on corrugated panels.
Today almost all of the Tarkine is covered by mining leases, except areas such as national parks. The effects on eco-tourism can be direct: an impending mine on one of Tarkine Trails’ licensed walking routes has left the business with no long-term trail for its rainforest walking tour.

The Pieman River and the wild west coast: Reflecting the ironic humour that grows in hard places, the Pieman River was named after Thomas Kent, a pastry cook and escaped convict recaptured here. The hamlet of Corinna on its banks has morphed from a wild mining and timber town to a wilderness resort that thrives during the tourist season. Buildings reflect its goldmining heritage. We even discover a couple of Huon pines near our cabins.
A morning river cruise on Arcadia II means I can now say I’ve travelled on a boat listed on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels. Made of Huon pine in the 1930s, it was once a RAN supply ship in New Guinea, but now offers one of the most remote rainforest cruises on earth. Stunning riverbank reflections appear like a series of impressionist paintings. We leave the Arcadia and take a motorised rubber dinghy to the Pieman’s northern bank and walk through the country of the Peternidic people and along the coast. In a sheltered bay, three game women dip into the chilled southern ocean and, in a magic moment, we spot seals leaping among the waves.

In the devil’s kitchen:
At Arthur River in the northern Tarkine, we have been promised a seat in the so-called devil’s kitchen at Kings Run, the coastal property of Geoff King. He has already sent us a welcome via a big tureen of fish soup. King left the family farming partnership years ago, uneasy at the impact of cattle grazing on a fragile, sandy landscape. Now he is restoring his share of the land, which is rich with wildlife and Aboriginal heritage.
“I’m here to set an agenda for you, tell you my views on things,” he says. “Then I’ll leave you to walk through the property to spend your own time and space in the landscape and form your own view.” This seems to be Tarkine Trails’ view, too: not just passing through this place but hanging out, immersing, allowing all senses to switch on, questions to form.
Sunset projects an orange caste over the coast and we see a shearwater killing a fish it has caught, hovering over a rock and dropping it several times. King has rejoined us;a gifted storyteller, he transmits his joy that disappeared plants have re-emerged, birds and marsupials have returned. His land is again a hunting ground for predators, the natural order is restored. Now it’s the off-road wheeled predators that worry him.
Near an extraordinary cathedral-like rock formation on the seashore we crowd into King’s shack; it’s a viewing platform where we can watch the nocturnal devil in action while eating Tasmanian specialties from the table. It is great news that northwestern Tasmanian devils are not suffering the facial tumour disease of their eastern cousins, whose immune system accepts the cancerous foreign cells exchanged when devils bite each other.
A devil enters the area just metres from us where a road-kill possum has been staked out. A mature male, he’s a regular visitor. His face is scarred but it’s certainly not the tumour disease. “The sex life of these devils is robust,” King tells us. “He takes his mate to the lair, keeps her there, he mates, then they fight, then they mate.”

Outside our lair, the predator is tearing at the possum in full spotlight. He is not bothered by light but is nervous, maybe sensing our presence. He scampers behind the bushes, emerges minutes later, disappears, then reappears, all while we politely eat our food inside. After this unique gastronomic experience, King drives us back to Arthur River. The wallabies are out in numbers, barely moving as we pass. Right outside our cabins we spot a devil scampering off behind a fence.
On our final day we walk in a gem of a rainforest fringing the Julius River, then to Lake Chisholm, an ancient sinkhole.
Beside the quiet waters, we contemplate our journey and the company we have enjoyed, while looking for frogs the size of thumbnails.


Blindly massaging

Hanoi, Vietnam

In Thailand blind traditional masseurs are not unusual. Now they’ve found their way to Hanoi.

Hanoi has a range of masseurs, they are overwhelmingly women. Many work in the ever-expanding Nha Nhnis, guest houses with rooms rented by the hour and offer men a massage-plus.

Women go for the regular deal in one of the spas or beauty parlours that are now all over neighbourhoods in Hanoi. The masseurs are OK, but I am looking for more traditional forms, as in Thailand. My friends suggest a blind massage practice near their office.

A friend takes me there, off Ngoc Khanh street in Ba Dinh, now Hanoi’s diplomatic quarter. It’s a plain double story building, unadorned cement and tile inside and – at 10 am pretty quiet. Hahn welcomes me whilst my friend Nam Huong explains, in Vietnamese, the kinks in my neck and the missing bits of my lower back. I couldn’t go into such physical detail with my basic Vietnamese.

Upstairs there are basic, screened off rooms; Vietnamese women often bring their own pyjamas to wear (in Thailand you’d be given a laundered pair). The massage is rougher around the edges than what I’m used to in the best places in Thailand, where massage’s elevation to a temple art, experienced practice and a demanding middle class have refined approaches, techniques and reading the body rather than following a learnt technique.
The young blind masseur has the basics in hand, so to speak, and the style here has echoes of that in Thailand, a mix of acupressure, muscle pressure/squeezing and stretches. He also uses a local balm and a wobbly heat lamp when massaging my back.

From next door I hear the constant beating of wood on a bell. the masseurs tell me its a private house where buddhist blessings are given to young couples seeking the right marriage partner.

At night the centre is more than a workplace as the young masseurs, mostly from the countryside, cook, eat, sing and play guitar together in between massage gigs. It is great young, blind people are practising a trade here; my friends tell me its still hard for the blind to be accepted more widely into other occupations.

Worth a try. But take Vietnamese friends with you the first time. I’m working out how to give some useful feedback through my friends. Prices are ridiculously low – less than two Australian dollars for an hour’s massage. So, as its an institution which supports the blind through skills training I’d make a much larger donation each time.

How to find it: Tam Quat cua Nguoi Mu (Massage by the Blind) is in in Ngo (Alley) 94 off Ngoc Khanh Street in Ba Dinh, on the same side as, and about 100 metres west of the Ngoc Khanh hotel.

Hanoi: Neon nights – fast food and wifi free


Hanoi, Vietnam
In Hanoi you can be blinded by neon lights but still fall into holes on the street because you can’t see. Electricity demand is soaring in Vietnam and supply breakdowns have been reported this week in the English-language Vietnam News. Due to low water levels in the rivers feeding Vietnam’s hydro-based system industry needs have had to be prioritised around the country. In private life airconditioning units are crawling all over the new apartment towers in Hanoi. But I reckon flashy neon lights are eating into the grid too. “Fast food and WiFi Free” says one neon sign on Ngoc Khan Street. I sure hope so. And they have a Christmas Tree, actually a pile of flashing decorations smothering the plastic pine. It all started with the charming fairy lights so loved in this part of the world; they curled around tree trunks and spread out to the branches to create a charming ambience. But with development on the run across Hanoi in construction, cafes and services charm ain’t enough, you need noise. So at night multicoloured neons flash, beckon, scream for attention from hotel roofs, cafe gates and side alley shops. Giant plasma screens shimmer at street intersections blinding motorbike riders at red lights with the latest in mobile phones, DVDs and other techno tasties. In all this visual noise many Hanoians still steal electricity, plugging illegally into distribution boxes; messy ganglions of electricity wires still net their way along the streets. Along with a clean water system and a modern sewage system (current infrastructure installed by the French) Hanoi’s utilities drag behind the reality of a lit up town.

Cathedral Christmas in Vietnam

Published by The Australian, Travel – 15/16 December, 2007

I AM blinded by the lights and trapped in a congregational crush waiting for midnight mass to begin on Christmas Eve in Phat Diem Cathedral.

It is Vietnam, 1993. Vietnamese work colleagues suggest we travel to the Catholic heart of north Vietnam in Ninh Binh province, a few hours south of Hanoi. It is a flat Red River delta landscape of rice paddies scattered with European-design churches.

Intriguingly, an invitation to celebrate Christmas Eve has been issued to the foreign community by state authorities, a way of showing the country’s new open-door policy is extended to the temple and cathedral as well as the economy.

I don’t see many foreigners in the cathedral. Is this a foreign boycott or botched Vietnamese communication? Both are possible.

The local worshippers are dressed in their best: old men in white shirts, lumpy coats and trousers with fraying hems; women in scarfs, now and then a mantilla, over long, dark dresses. Only young girls sport a splash of colour.

My colleague, Tuan, tells me this is the first time he has been inside a church. And this is no ordinary church but an 80m-long Sino-Vietnamese architectural fantasy of granite, marble and wood set amid ponds, a lake, grottoes and chapels, and dominated by a bell tower with pagoda-like roof.

In The Quiet American Graham Greene’s journalistic alter ego, Thomas Fowler, watches a night battle between unseen Viet Minh and the French military from this bell tower.

Nearby in the administrative office the line of bishops’ portraits stops in 1954, when a half-million northern Christians moved south after what was supposed to be the temporary partition of Vietnam following the end of French rule.

A French student tells me he will sing with Vietnamese friends in the choir, at the back of the nave and up a set of rickety stairs.

I wonder if the organ will survive the service, as there are huge bits missing. The organ pumps up to announce the entrance of the clergy draped in old finery, and chattering dies as the mass begins.

My Vietnamese is basic and Tuan gives me brief updates while I look around at the rows of women (far more females than males), some teary eyed.

A teenage girl reads from the Bible, a wall of gold lacquer shimmering behind her. Then the choir at the back of the cathedral breaks into Silent Night. In Vietnamese it is both strange and deeply familiar: a song of birth and peace in a country that has lost millions in war.

The French boy sings without a song sheet and voices fill this huge cavern held up by 48 ironwood pillars. The cathedral was hit by US bombs in 1972, though its wounds are now barely visible.

Tuan is transfixed as the priest delivers the sermon. After the mass I find out why. He holds his hand on his heart as he tells me: “It was about a poor, young married couple. At Christmas the woman sells her long hair, her great possession, to buy a watch-chain for her husband. She does not know he has sold his watch to buy her lovely hair combs.”

The priest has told the most famous story by American writer O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi. “It is about what we are prepared to give up when we love,” Tuan says as we stream out of the warm cathedral into a chilled, ink-black Christmas morning, breathing in the moment and wishing chuc mung giang sinh to all around us.