Conventional Formats Work
Posted on August 22, 2000
by Bob McElwain
Books have a lot in common, regardless of the writer,
content, or publisher. The covers are of sturdier weight than
the inner pages. There's a title page. Some credits on the
reverse side, or on the next page. Maybe a dedication by the
author. If appropriate, there's a table of contents next. If
there's an introduction, it follows. And if there's an index,
it's at the back of the book.
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So why not be creative? Put the index up front and the table
of contents at the end? Why not?
Habits Are Helpful
We are all creatures of habit. In fact we benefit from them.
What a chore it would be to get out of bed in the morning and get
to work if we had to think our way through each step, and be sure
we did not overlook one. We need our habits. And we don't want
to change them. A book with a title page at the end of it would
Conformity Is The Rule
The form and format of most magazines is even more
consistent, and rigid. Would a magazine be successful with
classified ads up front and letters to the editor at the end of
Newspapers are even more similar, one to another. The
emphasis is on the first fold that shows on the newsstand.
Headline creation is a major task. The way stories are written
is the same, with the key points up front in case the reader
does not continue.
Take a look at your bookcase. Hardbound books are pretty
much the same in height. Paperbacks are even more likely to be
nearly identical in this regard. You can generally mingle pages
from different newspapers and find the edges are pretty well
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And what about the type font? In 9 of 10 cases, it will be
Times Roman, or a close cousin. And the printed text is bound
to be black on white.
Publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers follow
conventions relentlessly. Why?
They want their readers to focus on the content, not the
logistics of getting around in the publication. And content
is the only significant difference between competing books,
magazines, or newspapers.
Since competition is really a contest between contents,
publishers do not want deviation elsewhere that might interfere
with the impact of that content.
Web Publishers Must Follow Suit
The conventions for a website are also clearly defined.
Fast loading pages that are easy to read. A navigation scheme
that is crystal clear in a glance. The same format on every
page. The same format? Hey, that's boring!
Maybe. But it is conventional. As with printed
publications, let nothing on your site detract from content.
It works for the "Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic Monthly,"
and Random House. And it works for other successful newspaper,
magazine, and book publishers. It also works on a website.
Let nothing in your pages detract from content. Then beat the
competition with that content, It's the only way to go.
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