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People writing for the web should write for readers that skim.

On a wiki, this is even more important, because we would like to be able to quickly get the gist of older discussions in order to understand recent contributions, and we want to be able to pick up key points when reworking pages. Writing for skimming helps to counter the LackOfReworking. See ReworkingProblems.

It’s amazing how easy it is to re-read a page you’ve read before, even if it was months ago, and still get all the points, if you’ve written for skimming! – LionKimbro

It is important not to overuse bold! One bold per paragraph is enough; two is a lot and requires either longer paragraphs or suggests a split. If there’s too much bold, we can’t skim. Writing for skimming does not mean that you can read the bold stuff and know what it is about. It means that you can read the bold stuff and know where you ought to spend more time. If you feel like adding more bold, perhaps you’re trying to add emphasis.

Also note that on this wiki, links appear bold, so choice use of LinkLanguage serves to add some bold for skimming. Again, it is important not to overdo it, and many people often try to avoid wiki words in order to avoid useless links.

(PageMaintainer: AlexSchroeder)

See Also



Alternatives to Bold

Bold text is sometimes as strong emphasis, a akin to shouting. Traditionally, however CAPITAL LETTERS HAVE BEEN USED FOR SHOUTING in email and newsgroups.

One alternative often used is using a light background color. The result looks as if a (yellow) marker has been used on the text. This has been used by 37signals. Similarly, the FSF has used varying degrees of background color lightness to indicate the number of comments attached to a particular piece of text in their license draft discussions. See the GNU Simpler Free Documentation License for an example.

Enclose text in +plus+ or ++doubleplus++ on this wiki to achieve the yellow marker effect.

Traditionally – when paper was expensive – particular symbols were used introduce new ideas instead of making paragraphs or using headings. That’s how expensive paper was!

Dotted cross ⁜ and various similar symbols were used on the margin to mark various important or characteristic things about text – for example, the parts of dubious origin. Later they are used for marking footnotes.

Pilcrow ¶ was used for roughly the same purpose we use end of pragaraph today – start new thought. It was used inline, saving a lot of expensive paper.

Parallel ‖ was sometimes used instead of pilcrow.

Tricolon ⁝ is a stronger version of period, was used in similar way as pilcrow, to mark a beginning of new chain of thought.

Asterism ⁂ is somewhat equivalent to the horizontal line or a heading on wikis – something like an end of a chapter. You can sometimes see it in novels in from of centered “* * *” alone on a line.

Coronis ⸎ is similar in meaning to asterism, also written as sort of decoration “flowing” from the last letter in the text (large descender of y, for example).

Section § is used in legal documents to this day – also a form of “chapter”.

As these symbols are out of fashion these days, it seems that to revive them we would need to give them our own meanings. We cannot rely on tradition too much.

How to use this in wikis? Using glyphs from a font would give us many symbols to choose from, but these would not be colored. Using colors would be nice, however. After all, as MattisManzel says: “We descend from monkeys interested in fruit - fruit that usually distinguish by color from their surrounding!”

See for yourself: :) is better than ☹.

We’d like to encourage you to experiment! Keep a list of glyps from the Unicode charts handy, or check out the FancyUnicodeChart and copy and paste them. If something gets used more than a few times, we can always introduce shortcuts. Currently -> is translated to → automatically, for example.

For a similar idea using inconspicuous characters for reworking by KeithHopper, see 2006-12-16.

Icons or ‘Emoticons’

MoinMoin wiki uses additional icons to draw reader’s attention to certain parts of text – and uses special markup rules like /!\ or (i) to make them available.

:attention: RadomirDopieralski prepared more than two dozen icons. To use them, use :foo: where ‘foo’ is the name of the icon you want to use.

Or as LionKimbro said: :red: :say: Radomir’s Icons totally kick Ass!

Sometimes, there are well established ASCII art shortcuts for these icons. If they are used often enough, we can add new rules. At the moment <3 is translated to <3, for example.

A dialogue with talking heads may be more understandeable to a skimmer than if it’s just “people talking”. The WikiDrama experiment wasn’t started with that in head, but maybe taking on a DramaCharacter is also a way to write for skimming.

:blue: :say: Hey, there used to be a great conversation here!

:red: :say: it was reworked. That’s the whole point of this page.

:blue: :say: Yeah, ok, it was long, but it was interesting!

:blue: :say: What if we all talked on the same line? :red: :say: It looks a bit silly :blue: :say: Could work with colour coding though. Or a “closing bubble” icon. :red: :think: Great, more arguing about minute details -_- …

I think that a “meta” symbol could be useful, for marking text that is not intended to be a part of the paragraph, just the author’s or editor’s comment on the article itself. Traditionally, these kind of notes are put in square brackets. I can see the /!\ icon used in this manner on many MoinMoin sites, like . I wonder if there could be a better icon for it that I could draw. Any Suggestions?

Font Size

Font size and font type we can also easily distinguish. Let go the coding and imagine! I read a new text on a wiki-page and I can “applaude” to it. I mark the text, choose something from 1 - 10, push “applaude” and the next time you read it the background changed to a little darker green or the font is bigger or different (have there been any experiments on font-morphing yet, continuously move from one to another font?) .:::::)

EdwardTufte?’s SparkLines? do this (this has been built into the core TiddlyWiki engine for quite some time). Font Size is also currently being used in Tag maps quite successfully (FlickR is quite sophisticated in this regard and is continuing to introduce interesting innovations, all be it much more slowly than they could be). Adding Color is yet another (really neat) way of achieving (what Lion has suggested I call) greater “InformationDensity?”. – HansWobbe

Actually, do you have a good example of TiddlyWiki-sized spark lines anywhere? I have yet to see a useful application. I have three of Tufte’s books, so you can also point to pages in his books.

I’ll see if I can find something quickly before I start my trip tomorrow. If not, I’ll certainly take a look just as soon as I get back at the end of this month.

Alex: I have not forgotten, but… I just got a bit behind during the last month and am only now starting to catch up in spite of being on the road a,d fighting with sporadic ‘net access. This will be a priority on the 15th, as I travel from Victoria to Vancouver, if I can’t find time sooner.


MoinMoin also uses “sections” – custom-named div’s with apropriate styling (mainly involving background color and icons). You can see an example at [1].


Define external redirect: InformationDensity SparkLines EdwardTufte

EditNearLinks: AlertBox MoinMoin ReworkingProblems JakobNielsen FlickR