Writing a Web Page

Marty Barrack

Marty Barrack

Writing a web page offers writers a unique opportunity. When we write in print, we always have to compromise between writing concisely and leaving out explanations that some people need, and writing comprehensively and risking losing the overall line amid a welter of detail.

However, a web page allows us to use links. For example, let’s write a basic paragraph of Catholic catechesis:

God created Adam and Eve with preternatural gifts, but they committed the original sin and were kicked out of Eden. That original sin left them filled with concupiscence, darkening their intellects and weakening their wills. To prepare for heaven, we have to practice the three theological virtues, the four cardinal virtues, and the seven capital virtues as well as the spiritual works of mercy and the corporal works of mercy. At the same time, we have to make strenuous efforts to avoid the seven capital sins. Especially, we must avoid mortal sin.

In this concise statement the site visitor can easily see the whole idea at once. But if he is not well catechized, he may not fully understand what he is reading. Now let’s try the same statement, but with links.

God created Adam and Eve with preternatural gifts, but they committed the original sin and were kicked out of Eden. That original sin left them filled with concupiscence, darkening their intellects and weakening their wills. To prepare for heaven, we have to practice the three theological virtues, the four cardinal virtues, and the seven capital virtues as well as the spiritual works of mercy and the corporal works of mercy. At the same time, we have to make strenuous efforts to avoid the seven capital sins. Especially, we must avoid mortal sin.

Now the site visitor can still easily see the whole idea at once. If he is well catechized, he can read the paragraph in less than a minute and move on. But if he is not familiar with any of these terms he can follow the link and have it explained. It takes a little practice to write this way. It also takes some writing skill to be sure and include the words that will be linked. For example, if instead of saying “preternatural gifts,” we had written “special gifts,” putting a link under special would have led the site visitor to a definition of “peternatural gifts.” That might confused a site visitor, who knows that “special” is not a synonym for “preternatural.”

Compared with writing for print, the web statement is always shorter and more concise. As a rule, the same person visiting a web site will have a shorter attention span than he will when reading printed material such as a magazine article on the same subject. If we have to deliver large amounts of text information, as this web site and its sister site Second Exodus do, we can provide a summary at the top of the page, or a central summary page in each area, that tells the visitor quickly what’s there. On very long pages we can provide little menus that help the site visitor navigate around the page fast, as in Archbishop Burke’s Commentary on the General Directory for Catechesis. Whatever it takes to deliver the information fast.

The writer should, in this case as always, put in the extra effort so that the site visitor will have to take less effort. Marian Catechists are faithful, and will, with God’s grace, persevere to the end. But some site visitors may have only a tenuous connection with their Faith. If we do the work for them, they may in time come to Jesus. If we do not, and they fall away, God will hold us accountable for what we could have done and did not.