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  1. #1
    Gre aus'm Pott gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy
    Pullo's Avatar
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    What are your thoughts on content accessibility?

    According to the W3C accessibility guidelines, a site that wants to achieve level 1 accessibility should:
    Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site's content.
    Closer inspection tells us that we should:
    - Favor words that are commonly used. For example, use "begin" rather than "commence" or use "try" rather than "endeavor."

    - Use active rather than passive verbs.

    - Avoid complex sentence structures.
    Source:http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-CORE-TECHS/#comprehension

    Does anybody agree with this or is it just catering to the lowest common denominator?
    Is my site really regarded as inaccessible because I have a reasonable command of the English language and can express myself well?
    Is this not the equivalent of insisting that authors write books in an easy-to-understand, as opposed to literary (thus enjoyable) style?

    I would be interested to hear any thoughts on this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pullo View Post
    Is my site really regarded as inaccessible because I have a reasonable command of the English language and can express myself well?
    If you use difficult and unusual words that make some users unable to understand what you are saying, then yes, it is inaccessible to them. If those people are part of your 'target audience' you have a real problem.

    There are many reasons why someone may have difficulties understanding what you write: a cognitive disability (dyslexia, aphasia, etc.), deafness, English as a second/third/... language, and so on. A lot of people seem to read very little, if at all, these days. This lack of practice is detrimental to their reading comprehension. I think that's why video on the Web is becoming so popular: people are getting increasingly bad at reading.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pullo View Post
    Is this not the equivalent of insisting that authors write books in an easy-to-understand, as opposed to literary (thus enjoyable) style?
    That depends on what sort of site you have. In many cases a more apposite analogy would be an instruction manual or an informative pamphlet/brochure targeting the general public. If it's essential that everyone understand the content, you'll aim for the lowest common denominator.

    A literary novel is normally targeting a smaller audience, viz. those who enjoy reading a richer linguistic style.
    Birnam wood is come to Dunsinane

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    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    A lot of people seem to read very little, if at all, these days. This lack of practice is detrimental to their reading comprehension. I think that's why video on the Web is becoming so popular: people are getting increasingly bad at reading.
    Other way around: the availability of television and videos has helped decrease reading ability. Maybe it's time we Take Back Our Streets!

    Yeah the idea of talking stupid to users irks me too. Because one might suck at reading, everyone else gets Barney level text. Plus it's telling all those who CAN read that they are only worthy of Barney-level text.

    However I agree with Tommy that you can better determine how Barney-level the language has to be by looking at your target group, if you have one.
    If your site's about radiology and your target audience is radiographers or radiologists, using jargon is BETTER than not, because it actually still simplifies your text (compared to generic text). In that case, we don't care if some non-radio-person stumbles along the site: if they do, they have the googles and wikipedia at their fingers.

    If your site's a how-to for newbs, then generic language works better.

    You can also mix styles. A site about a software product can have clearer text for the download and troubleshooting pages than the description of all the awesome things it can do page.

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    Mouse catcher silver trophy Stevie D's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pullo View Post
    Does anybody agree with this or is it just catering to the lowest common denominator?
    Is my site really regarded as inaccessible because I have a reasonable command of the English language and can express myself well?
    Is this not the equivalent of insisting that authors write books in an easy-to-understand, as opposed to literary (thus enjoyable) style?
    As Stomme says, the key point is understanding your audience. If your target readers are all going to be highly educated and literate, you don't want to dumb it down too much. On the other hand, if you're aiming your site at a wide cross-section of the population, you need to write something that people can read. There's no point in putting in place all sorts of accessibility measures to help a hundred visitors with a visual impairment when you're leaving twenty thousand out because you're writing style goes over their heads (and also bear in mind that your site may be getting readership from abroad, from people are perfectly literate in their own language but who don't speak such good English).

    People often get confused about the difference between simplifying language and dumbing down. You might think you are demonstrating your erudition by with the word "utilise" but a lot of others will just think you're a pretentious for not saying "use". Even those of us with a vocabulary the size of Jupiter can get fed up with flowery language that doesn't get to the point. "Use" instead of "utilise" is not dumbing down, it's (ahem) using the best word for the job. You don't have to adopt a "Janet and John" writing style, just keep it as simple as possible to get your point across (but no simpler).

    In general, a website is not a literary masterpiece. Yes, there will be some sites where the aim is to showcase your writing skills, or at least where a particular style of writing builds the right atmosphere, but in general, no. People want to find, read, understand, and move on. Web surfers have very short attention spans, and if they don't immediately see what they want on the page, they'll move on. Keep your writing short and to the point.

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    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    People often get confused about the difference between simplifying language and dumbing down.
    Good point. I'm one of those people. : )

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    Gre aus'm Pott gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy
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    Thanks for the replies, that has helped to clear this issue up a little bit in my mind.

    I agree with many of the points raised, for example that a website is not (normally) a literary masterpiece, rather a means of communication, or that knowing your target audience helps greatly.

    I'm also learning that there is a great deal more to web accessibility than just separating content and style. However, I also think that when implementing any accessibility measures, one should also proceed with common sense as opposed to sticking blindly to a guideline.

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    Mouse catcher silver trophy Stevie D's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    Good point. I'm one of those people. : )
    I have a tendency to use sentences that go all round the houses before getting to the point. (And there I go again. Why not just start "I tend to..."?) I write long paragraphs with complex sentence structures. And then, when I'm writing for a general audience website, I cross most of it out and start again because I know that I've written is a style that is just not appropriate for the Average Joe. If you're used to that kind of flowery, elegant writing style, it can be really difficult to write in a simpler way without it sounding like a Janet and John book (the originals that is, not the Terry Wogan versions). But it can be done - it just takes a bit of effort, a bit of thinking about.

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    SitePoint Wizard cranial-bore's Avatar
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    First of all, I almost always find the word "commence" sounds pretentious and try-hard. Other than that I'd say it depends on what the writing means to you.
    If it's pure business, go with what works best for your (possibly dumb) visitors. If your writing is a form of expression and part of your identity then don't be censored by the W3C or your visitors.

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    Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site's content.
    The key word here is appropriate. The language should be appropriate to the purpose and the intended audience of the website. "Appropriate" encompasses common sense.

    Does anybody agree with this or is it just catering to the lowest common denominator?
    Is my site really regarded as inaccessible because I have a reasonable command of the English language and can express myself well?
    Is this not the equivalent of insisting that authors write books in an easy-to-understand, as opposed to literary (thus enjoyable) style?
    You are losing the point of the guidelines. They are not for making most entertaining, or best written, but most accessible website. Follow the guidelines to have the maximum number of people be able to use your site. And yes that does mean designing to the lowest common denominator. However, you get to pick that denominator. Determine your intended audience and design your content to be accessible to them.

    Wikipedia: Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible.

  10. #10
    Team ********* Louis Simoneau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    Yeah the idea of talking stupid to users irks me too. Because one might suck at reading, everyone else gets Barney level text. Plus it's telling all those who CAN read that they are only worthy of Barney-level text.
    I disagree. I don't think any of those guidelines direct you to use "Barney-level" text: all they're saying is that when you're tempted to write something like

    Before the proceedings could be commenced by the participants who had assembled for the colloquium, it was of paramount importance that the agenda be read by the speaker.
    You'd be better off saying:

    Before the meeting could get started, the speaker had to read the agenda.
    That's not Barney-level, that's just good writing. If SitePoint published articles and books in the former style, chances are none of you would have hung around long enough to be in this thread

  11. #11
    SitePoint Author silver trophybronze trophy

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    I read a great line yesterday, in a brand new book from the Web Standards Project. I don't have it at hand right now, so I'll have to paraphrase:

    Write so that your readers seem clever – not so that you seem clever.
    (Their wording was much better. )
    The next line emphasised that it is not a question of 'dumbing down', but about writing clearly and concisely.

    Being slightly long-winded doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, either. Dense, fact-filled, no-nonsense prose can be arduous to read. I tend to 'lighten up' my writing a bit, so that the 'fact density' is a bit lower. This, I've been told, makes my texts easier to read.
    Birnam wood is come to Dunsinane

  12. #12
    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    If you're used to that kind of flowery, elegant writing style...
    I don't see a simple word like "tendency" as flowery and elegant. I'd be getting paid good money if the garbage I blurted out was considered flowery and elegant by anyone.

    Similarly
    First of all, I almost always find the word "commence" sounds pretentious and try-hard.
    It's never seemed that way to me, but that might be because of where the word comes from, which helps me know what it means.

    This thread makes me glad I only have to write code and not content. There are people you can hire who do that professionally.

  13. #13
    Gre aus'm Pott gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy
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    I think the main point that I have drawn from this is to identify your target audience and set the "denominator" accordingly.

    However, what if one has overlapping target audiences?

    Example: I have to maintain a website for English speaking PhD students. One would hope they have a good command of the English language. However, this site is also intended for foreign PhD students who are expected to have a good grip of English with regard to their field, but who might better understand less complicated English.

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    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by poes
    I'd be getting paid good money if the garbage I blurted out was considered flowery and elegant by anyone.
    I don't know most of it does at least have some good comedy value (good witty-terminology); I'd probably pay to hear [read] how Barney was arrested for running a 'Protection Racket' and false accounting. ;-)

    You are always going to get overlap but if the audience is PhD you would expect a specific standard before the course had commenced else they would have to have additional language support.

    You can cut down on ambiguity and use more plain terms without sacrificing complexity and usually you'd have a 'copy writer' or at least get someone else to check the documents.

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    Your writing doesn't have to be bland to be accessible. Humour and a lack of formality can help users access the information more easily (because it's like talking to a mate instead of a corporate drone).

    I try to use the minimum number of words when I want to get a fact across, and then chuck in some humour or flowery bits when I want an emotional response. So my writing is usually a mix of both.

    Also short sentences, paragraphs, useful sub-headers etc all go towards making content accessible. As is knowing when to stop writing and just go ahead and post.
    Do something different. www.thecareerbreaksite.com.

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    This is one I struggle with constantly - I'm a firm believer that the average person is a total idiot and you need to dumb down your writing to match.

    The problem is that I can't dumb down much of what I want to say that much, and limiting the vocabulary goes against everything I was taught about quality writing. Some of the simple rules of good writing conflict with that simplification... try not to use the same proper noun or adjective twice in a paragraph.

    I'm pretty big on the WCAG as a whole, but when it comes to dumbing down the content, I react poorly.

    How poorly? I've been known to even post on some forums "It's called literacy; You should try it, it's nice!" when people come back with "TL/DR" or completely miss what I was saying. I'm often surprised how often people seem to think I'm saying the opposite of what my posts say... or how often people gloss over the little details completely missing the point of articles online. You get that with articles ABOUT accessibility all the time. From stupidity of thinking that when they say 10pt they mean 10px, to the confusion of 'structural presentation' vs. 'rendering presentation' - both use the word presentation and refer to two entirely separate things.

    If you THINK there's going to be doubt as to the meaning, explain further rather than dumbing it down.

    For those of you who disagree, it's called literacy, you should try it, it's nice!

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    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    I agree that humour can really improve the accessibility of information but it needs to be used appropriately. Language is as subjective and complex as design so people will take it differently depending on how you portray the information, one key area for example is the use of complex technical language, that can be a real barrier for dyslexics or those not in the same field (such as the medical industry) where those terms are used regularly.

    PS: I agree the average user is (for lack of a better term - incompetent) I have several years of tech support practice via web based support desks to vouch for that.

  18. #18
    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Off Topic:

    I agree that humour can really improve the accessibility of information but it needs to be used appropriately.
    I'm a big fan of inappropriate humour myself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    I'm a big fan of inappropriate humour myself.
    Way, WAY ot, the every subject of this thread reminds me of...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNga_ycqS7o



    Which is pretty inappropriate... but reminds me of a lot of the people I've dealt with on this subject. Like people using phrases like up-most, talking about someone going rouge (better dead than red?), mute points, illiciting information, the weather having averse conditions... which for all intensive purposes is pretty silly.

    (for the illiterate amongst you, that's utmost, rogue, moot, eliciting, adverse, and for all intents and purposes.)

    You know, like having one's dessert in the desert... or flaunting one's arrogance by flouting the rules. Though I am loath to share how much I loathe dealing with people who don't understand such things.

    Though my archaic speech mannerisms oft get me in trouble as well, since I was taught that vocabulary should not be doled out with a niggard hand.

    It's like about 25 years ago I was in a hobby store looking at plastic models of F-4 Phantoms, turned to a friend and said "hey, this one's got retards" - wife of the owner flipped because their son (a friend of mine) was... uhm... special. In the same way as some olympics. She tried to kick me out of the store and when I explained it to the owner - a Vietnam vet, he started laughing his ass off. "That one does have retards."

    I was referring to a retarded bomb. It's a type of bomb that deploys either airbrakes or a drogue chute to slow it's forward travel so it explodes on a target behind the aircraft instead of below it -- common for low level drops. To retard - to slow down or impair. Did we mention his wife was a high school English teacher and didn't know that? I cry for our kids with them being allowed out of high school with what was considered a fourth grade reading level when I went through the system.

    Pisses me off no end when people's limited vocabulary makes them kneejerk into thinking you said something you didn't. Next thing you know people will be calling... uhm... a derogatory term for a white person acting like they're from the ghetto... a racial slur resulting in a permaban. I don't know ANYPLACE that ever did something like that.

    Makes me feel like George Carlin with the 7 words you can't say on the radio... Or Dr. Johnny Fever... BOOGER!!!

    I hate the mere notion of dumbing down speech or not being allowed to use certain words just because other people are idiots... or certain terms being blown way out of proportion.

  20. #20
    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crusty
    It's a type of bomb that deploys either airbrakes or a drogue chute to slow it's forward travel so it explodes on a target behind the aircraft instead of below it
    Haha, below the belt I know, but I was waiting for one! (It annoys me to no end that while I know the rule well, I still keep mistyping it! arg *pulls hair*)

    since I was taught that vocabulary should not be doled out with a niggard hand.
    I remember a guy in the news getting in trouble for using that word. It was kinda funny and kinda sad.

    I figure in places like a forum, if someone says they're offended by a term that shouldn't be offensive, well, as much as I disagree with their offended-ness, I figure it's better to just avoid using it when they are around just to make them feel better. Why antagonise?
    "Electrolytes It's what plants crave!"

    That and I know I'm reading along to something fast enough that I too miss plenty and get a lot wrong... my reading levels are much below where I want them. And I'll even say, I don't want my reading levels challenged when I'm trying to get the toaster to work or figure out TCP/IP... save that for when that's my goal. It's surely because of my reading levels that I still don't really grasp the Apache docs, and they seem to even be written in plain English.

    To retard - to slow down or impair. Did we mention his wife was a high school English teacher and didn't know that?
    It's because she teaches English instead of teaching music. Who didn't want to play a song retardando?

    Next thing you know people will be calling... uhm... a derogatory term for a white person acting like they're from the ghetto... a racial slur resulting in a permaban. I don't know ANYPLACE that ever did something like that.
    Lawlz. You so owe me a new pair of underwear now. Type "Die Antwoord" into YouTube, just know that it's all fake.

    Or Dr. Johnny Fever... BOOGER!!!
    With Boogerman as a popular surname around here, I can assure you, it merely means someone with a bow (so, an archer). Centaurs were famed boogermen, perhaps.
    Hm, or maybe it was someone who made bows, now I'm not sure...

  21. #21
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    Inaccessible:

    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them?
    Accessible:

    Stick around, or bugger off? Hmm, dunno.
    Should I take the crap life dishes up or
    Flip the bird and five 'em hell?
    Take your pick.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes
    It's surely because of my reading levels that I still don't really grasp the Apache docs, and they seem to even be written in plain English.
    No, that's not the case. Those docs are a good example of a failure to connect words with something meaningful, that's all.

  22. #22
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    I pick the second one, it's much more appealing and rather humorous. Let's face it, Shakespeare had verbal diarrhoea

  23. #23
    It's all Geek to me silver trophybronze trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlexDawson View Post
    Let's face it, Shakespeare had verbal diarrhoea
    It's generally considered (so I believe) that Shakespeare uses as few words as are necessary to express a particular idea. Even though the second quote is shorter, it doesn't say as much. [Darn it all, there was a typo too. It should say "give 'em hell". O well.]

    I've often tried to express ideas as concisely as the Bard, but it's quite hard. (Maybe that's why he's a genius and I'm not!)

    Off Topic:


    O, but wait--that's right, those works weren't written by Shakespeare anyway. Apparently they were written by another man with the same name.

  24. #24
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    Fewest words possible?
    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them?
    VS
    What to-do?: Put my BS in lady fates hands or start killing.
    No contest, mine is shorter and says basically the same thing!

  25. #25
    SitePoint Wizard Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Lil' Will:
    I be, or I don't be, dat's wuzzup, nome sane?

    Be I some fool stayin' a slave to The Man,

    or do I posse up ma crew an pull out ma Glock?
    : )


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