Lesson 1. WCAG 2.0 for content writers
Hey, content writer! No, don't go away — I mean you!
OK: that's not your job title (you're a teacher or scientist or HR manager or whatever) but you also produce stuff that goes on the web or intranet. And that gives you another hat: Content Writer.
"Don't call me that silly name!" you mutter. "Isn't content just information? I'm just writing stuff. It's no different from what I've always done."
Actually, writing for a web site is very different from writing for paper. You have extra responsibilities. You are now part of a publishing team.
Picture your article as published in a paper magazine. Your paper article cannot:
- read itself aloud
- translate itself from English into Chinese
- attract the attention of a passing search engine, making it instantly available to anyone in the world
- make its own font bigger or smaller.
But on a web site, the reader can easily make all these things happen... provided the web developer and the writer have followed certain guidelines. This series of articles takes you through the most popular guidelines, called WCAG 2.0.
Now your government steps into the picture (assuming you live in a reasonably democratic state).
- Information on a web site can be made available (accessible) to far more people than if it were just on paper or just on the radio or TV or a CD. For example, web content can be "read" by people with sight or hearing problems, people with arthritis or broken wrists, people using mobile phones or funny old-fashioned computers.
- Public information is produced with the aid of public money: your money.
- Because information on a government web site can be made accessible, government decrees that it must be accessible.
- So all web sites of agencies that receive public money are required to make their content accessible. It's the law.
- Responsible commercial organisations follow suit, wanting their information to reach the largest possible number of people.
"No no no, that's not my problem." I hear you say. "I just write stuff. That sounds technical. Let the web team do it."
They do, mainly. Most of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are implemented by your web team.
But writing — and producing other content like audio and video and graphs and charts — is now terminally entangled with publishing, promoting, storing, searching, publicising and distributing information. That's why you need to understand and follow some of these guidelines. It's your job now.
Once upon a time, many experts stood between writers and readers. Editors, typesetters, truck-drivers, storemen, archivists, librarians, shopkeepers, postal workers...
But today, most probably you, the writer, are also responsible for publishing and distributing your own web content.
Would you expect the printer to write:
- a headline for your news story?
- a title for your book?
- a caption for your graph?
Thought not. You care because it's your content. If you don't do these few things, nobody will, or they'll be done badly. And you'll have fewer readers.
Do them right and your content becomes available to a much wider audience, and complies with legislation.
Lesson 2 will be: Content that isn't words...
Please be patient: I have to write it first!