/ Q.A.: Basic Journal-ism: Tips for Electronic Publishers

Article Presentation

The format of articles in JEP has changed with this issue, and the change is generally for the better. The old format, exemplified by A Model for Cost Allocation and Pricing in the Internet, suffered from text overload — that wall-to-wall text effect again — and lack of contrast (black type on gray background). Those problems have been addressed in the new format, with narrower columns and black text on a white background. Even narrower columns and a larger point size would make online reading easier, but those changes would consume much more paper for those who print out articles. One solution would be for JEP to offer an additional version of each article designed to be printed out, like Synapse does.

One area the old format excelled in was the use of references and notes. The references not only provided hyperlinks for online readers but also offered quick reference for those who printed articles and read them offline. That's important, because unless articles include strong interactive or multimedia components, more readers are likely to print out articles and read them on paper than read them on screen. As Jakob Nielsen points out, "Reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper," because a computer screen has only about one-tenth the resolution of even an inexpensive inkjet printer — and less than one one-hundredth the resolution of a magazine page.[6]

Another good feature of the old JEP format was the inclusion of an abstract at the top of articles. Abstracts help the visitor decide quickly whether an article is worth reading (or printing for offline reading). The use of subheads in both old and new formats is good. As Nielsen notes, "Skimming instead of reading is a fact of the Web and has been confirmed by countless usability studies." [7] Subheads make such skimming easy, as would the addition of a list of hypertext subheads at the top of each article to help visitors zip right to what they're looking for.

It also would be helpful to include a listing of all links that appear in a piece at the end of each article. Doing so makes it easier for readers to digest the text in one gulp if they are so inclined, then pursue external links later. It's also a courtesy to those who will read the piece offline and want to follow up on one of the hyperlinks without necessarily having to track down the original journal article.