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The three basic principles of graphic communication are:

  • Know your medium
  • Know your audience
  • Know your material

Know your medium: Learn about screens, web browsers, modems, image formats, color maps, fonts, color, and typography. Not everyone's computer is like yours. Not everyone's browser is like yours. Learn how things look in other contexts. Find out how long it takes to display various pages under various circumstances. Learn how to say the same thing using fewer bytes. Learn when to use pictures and when not to use pictures. Think very hard about whether or not it is appropriate to use music. Learn about advanced features such as tables, forms, frames, Java, Javascript, and advanced features of HTML. Find out which of those features is supported in the versions of browsers that your readers will be using.

The web is unique in the history of the publication industry because of the possibilities for wide variation in what people will see when looking at the same pages. The line lengths, font sizes, image colors, and other visual artifacts may look very different on different computers. To make a web page that is effective for all of your readers, you must learn enough about this medium to understand what will be on their screen. Our section on "Common mistakes" gives examples of mistakes that we frequently see on the web.

Two widely-respected online guides to web design principles are the Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide, published by the Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media, and Writing HTML, published by the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction. A good collection of tips for how to reduce the size of your pages (so that they will load more rapidly) is published by the Bandwidth Conservation Society.

Know your audience: Think about who will be reading your web page, and why, and where. What are you trying to tell them? Are you writing for people who are already members of your church, or for outreach to people who are not? Are they 12 years old, or 85, or a combination of ages? Do you think that your audience wants music played while they are looking at a web site? How loud? What kind of music? Will people be reading your pages sequentially, from the beginning, or will they be searching for facts. What facts? Do they live in your city? In your country? Why do they want to read your web page? Would they ever want to read it more than once, and, if so, how can you make that easier for them?

Know your material: Find out what material is appropriate to include in the kind of web site you are preparing, and include it. Find out what might be superfluous, and move it to the back or leave it out. Get your facts straight. Understand what message you are trying to convey, and review your web site carefully to make sure that all of its contents contribute to that message.

Think about the balance between material that is part of your web site and material in other places that you link to. You don't want to re-write all of Christian literature for your web page, but you also don't want your site to consist entirely of links to other places. Find a good balance and be consistent. If you do not have time or budget to maintain and update your pages regularly, then it is best to do more linking to external sources. Learn what resources are available and link to them when appropriate.

We find that it works best to start with the content of a site and derive the form from thinking about the content. This means that the techniques for good writing that you learned in school and college still apply; follow them. Your writing teacher was right.

Spell words correctly. Get titles right. Check all of your links regularly to make sure that they still work.

See our sections on "Diocesan pages" and "Parish pages" for specific recommendations on what material should and should not be in such pages.