This guide offers tips and tools for the planning and implementation of a digital project. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the available resources on the left menu and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I am also available for research consultations. Use the book now button to the right to schedule a meeting with me.

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Website Design

The best websites stand out for their simplicity, but looks can be deceptive: it is easier to put together an “information-rich” website than to come up with a “simple” and focused design. Develop the scope of your project first. Think about message, contents, and audience. Then select a template that suits your project. It doesn’t take a lot of experience to create a website with a template, but it takes a fair amount of thought and planning to design an effective and polished product.

Begin with the following questions: Who is my audience? What information do I want to convey? Which objects, images, and/or quotes will support my project effectively? Collecting images and documents, writing the text, and tracking all credits can and should be done before you sit down to enter the information online. Keep it simple. Remember that simplicity and clarity are the backbone of good web design.

One last tip: have a back-up plan in case you accidentally delete part of your website. Store the text you wrote, the images and documents you collected, together with URLs and credits in a folder, document, or spreadsheet.

Remember:

  • Less is more!
  • Keep it simple AND engaging!
  • Use everyday language and short sentences. Avoid long paragraphs. Use headers to draw your readers attention.
  • Start with a template unless you are an experienced web designer. Templates take care of layout, navigation, typefaces, and color schemes.
  • Images play an important role in good web design but they can pose unexpected technical, legal, and ethical challenges: large images can slow down your website; not all images can be legally re-used and published; images may be offensive and hurtful in unexpected ways.

Content organization and presentation

Content organization and presentation largely depend on the type of project you are working on. The right template will do much of the heavy lifting for you. For example, if you plan to tell a chronological story a template that incorporates a slide show could be a good match. A project that is object-oriented may be better served by a template that presents an image gallery that links to further information on demand. Most web applications offer templates. Focus on the structure and functionality of the template not on the labels.

Writing for the Web

Writing for a website is not the same as writing a term paper. Adapt your writing style to your project and your audience. Aim for clear and concise writing.

No matter who your audience is, research shows that we read only about 20 percent of the words on a website. Our eyes generally skim across the screen until an image or headline catches our attention. Guide your reader to your key messages through text organization, chunking, and other design choices. At the same time do not distract your reader with unnecessary features.

Chunk your content into short paragraphs and limit yourself to one idea per paragraph. Start paragraphs with a signal sentence that summarizes your main argument. Follow with one or two examples in support of your argument.

Talk directly to you audience using the first and second person. Avoid using the passive voice.

Support your message through web design:

  • Emphasize important ideas visually.
  • Use lists instead of long paragraphs.
  • Use headers effectively.
  • Move credits and citations to a separate page to keep the main pages free of unnecessary clutter.
  • Integrate links into your text (avoid "Click here") and don't change established web conventions for links. Keep links blue and underlined.
  • Do not underline headers or text. Underlining should be reserved for links.

Visual Communication

Websites accommodate a variety of media such as images, sound files, and film clips. Be judicious and keep in mind that your design should support your project. Don't confuse your reader with cutsie pictures, flashing highlights, and arbitrarily chosen colors and fonts. Stay on message - every choice you make counts.

Images are powerful and touch us in ways words cannot. Be sure that your images are sending the message you intend to send and don't offend or marginalize your subjects or your audience. Historical images with traumatic content should be used judiciously and always contextualized. For example, do not use photos of human remains unless the images makes an important point. Avoid the use of images of unknown individuals who may have been photographed without their consent. Don't contribute to their objectification. Celebrities and public figures on the other hand are fair game as long as the image is your own or in the public domain.

Don't perpetuate the marginalization of historical actors by using only images of the ruling class. There are many more images of generals and kings than of peasants and slaves. It will take more effort to find representative historical images.

Tools for your toolbelt

Image libraries with public domain and creative commons licensed images

Copyright Considerations

Creating a website is essentially a form of publication. Your project will be freely available online. This means that the contents of your website are subject to U.S. copyright laws.

Most of your academic work including term papers and classroom presentations is unpublished. The fair use doctrine and the TEACH act allow students and teachers to use published and creative works in their classroom without seeking permission from the copyright holders. However, the academic code of ethics requires that you acknowledge the creator(s) of the materials that you consulted by citing them.

Start with the assumption that every work you copy from a book or a website could be off-limits for re-use under copyright law. Use the following guidelines to determine which objects can be re-used online.

Public domain

  • Every work published prior to 1926 is in the public domain.
  • Works published between 1925 and 1978 are protected under copyright law if the author or publisher registered them with the US copyright office.
  • Federal government documents are in the public domain with very few exceptions. State government documents are not in the public domain.
  • Unpublished works which include artworks are protected for the life of the author/creator plus 70 years.

Licensed for re-use

  • Any creative and intellectual work created today has inherent copyrights unless the author/creator issues a license that permits re-use.
  • Works with a creative commons license can be re-used under specific conditions.
  • The most common creative commons license is CC-BY which requires you to credit the creator.