Monday, 30 November 2009

Writing for the web

The first thing to realise about writing for the web is that people tend to skim-read pages, looking for the salient facts. Therefore it is best to write in an inverted pyramid style, with the most important information and a summary of the article first. Another important guideline is to avoid information pollution (the inclusion of redundant information, like "don't use your hairdryer underwater").

Since people only skim-read on the web, it's a good idea to break your page up with headings, bullet points, and the use of bold to emphasise key points.

Stick to the main topic of the page (don't digress) and include only one idea per paragraph. has ten guidelines for web writing.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Using Plain English

The importance of clear communication is obvious. But plain English is a specific style which can be learnt. The Plain English Campaign have a series of guides to writing plain English.

Some of the key guidelines are:
  • avoid passive voice
  • avoid long sentences with dependent clauses
  • avoid jargon and non-literal phrases
  • avoid excessive formality
  • Try to expand acronyms (e.g. GA) and explain unfamiliar jargon the first time you use them
  • If you are explaining a procedure, try to set it out in small steps in the same order as the person will need to carry out the procedure.
  • Use numbers not words - it's better to use "23" than "twenty-three" as it stands out more

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Web statistics

The easiest way to obtain accurate web statistics is to use Google Analytics.

The best place to start is the Get Started page on the Google Analytics site, which explains how to install tracking code and how to view your reports.

Once you have installed Analytics, all you have to do is check back every so often to see which pages are the most popular, and the number of visitors from different parts of the world.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Information architecture

What is information architecture?
  1. The structural design of shared information environments.
  2. The art and science of organising and labelling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support findability and usability. » More
The information architecture of your website makes it easier for visitors to find information. A typical church website will have times of services, contact details, how to find the church/chapel, sample sermons, profiles of the members and the minister, newsletter articles, and so on.

There are several different models of information architecture.
The information architecture is mainly represented by the navigation (menus).

Here are some examples.
  • New Unity (Newington Green and Islington Unitarians) has a strict hierarchy model.
  • The Bristol Unitarians website has a multi-dimensional hierarchy (you can browse by category or by date). This is mainly due to using a blog with labels to build the site.
  • The York Unitarians website has an index structure.
Which of these models you choose for your website depends on how much content you have or plan to add to your website.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Evaluation of Google Sites

The JISC Access Management blog has a useful evaluation of Google Sites, which they used to manage a website for a conference.

Key points to note: Ease of use and Look and feel.

Heal your church website

Whilst Heal your church website is written mainly for evangelicals, it still has lots of great articles and information.
You can also feel really really smug that Unitarian websites don't have animated spinning gold crosses, or Jesus Junk. Though we probably do have some inaccessible features like using tables for layout.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


In computing, internationalisation and localisation are means of adapting computer software to different languages and regional differences. Internationalisation is the process of designing a software application so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. Localization is the process of adapting software for a specific region or language by adding locale-specific components and translating text.
~ Wikipedia, Internationalisation and localisation

What to avoid
  • Colloquialisms (slang)
  • Non-literal phrases and expressions, e.g. "keeping us on our toes"
  • Phrases from other languages such as Latin, French or German, e.g. lingua franca, Schadenfreude, viva voce, double entendre
  • Excessive formality and convoluted sentences
  • Passive voice
  • Dependent clauses in sentences
What to consider
  • If you're writing about "local" events or information, it's OK to use British English
  • If you're writing about "international" events or information, it's better to use more generic English

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Learning styles

There's an interesting post over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist about the best way to treat different learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) when teaching - the best way is to use the most appropriate modality for the material being delivered. This is interesting news for anyone who works in religious or other education, with adults or children.

When to use PDFs

When not to use PDFs
  • If the information is intended to be read online
  • If another content type could be used instead, i.e. a normal HTML web-page
When to use PDFs
  • When a document needs to be downloaded, read offline or printed
  • If a document is more than 5 pages long. But consider whether it could be broken down into smaller sections and presented as HTML
  • When attaching a document to an email
  • As an additional alternative to online content - e.g. this set of tutorials could also be provided as a single PDF document
  • When formatting needs to be preserved - e.g. a PowerPoint presentation
  • Instead of Microsoft Office documents. But HTML is better most of the time
  • See the definitive list of when to use PDFs by Joe Clark
What else to include with your PDF document
  • An online HTML version or summary of the document
  • A link to download Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • A PDF icon to indicate that it is a PDF document (see an example on the BBC website)
See also

Monday, 23 November 2009

Why "click here" is bad

Why "Click here" is bad linking practice (by Jukka Korpela)
  • "Click here" just looks stupid.
  • "Click here" looks especially stupid when printed on paper.
  • "Click here" is useless in a list of links or when in "links reading" mode, or whenever a link text is considered as isolated from its textual and visual context.
  • "Click here" is bad food for search engines. If you say "For information on Unitarianism, click here", search engines won't know that your document contains a link to a document about Unitarianism. Some important search engines use the link text in estimating the relevance of a link. Using descriptive link texts thus helps users in finding documents they're interested in, potentially including your document due to a link text with some key word.
  • There's usually a fairly simple way to do things better. Instead of the text "For information on Unitarianism, click here", you could simply type "About Unitarianism".
  • "Click here" is device-dependent. There are several ways to follow a link, with or without a mouse. Users probably recognize what you mean, but you are still conveying the message that you think in a device-dependent way.

Describing links correctly

Bad Good
  • Click here for information about Unitarianism
  • You can access information on Unitarianism by clicking here
  • More information on Unitarianism is here
  • More information on Unitarianism is available by following this link
  • More information on Unitarianism is available by following this link
  • Follow this link for more information on Unitarianism
  • To book a place on this course click here
  • About Unitarianism
  • More information about Unitarianism
  • Find out more about Unitarianism
  • There have been a lot of news items about Unitarianism recently
  • Book a place on this course

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cool tools

For people who want to bring together different services to create a unique blend (also known as a mashup), there are some really useful and easy to use tools out there.

Widgetbox allows you to develop small applications for embedding in webpages. The easiest widget to set up is the blidget, which fetches an RSS feed (from a blog, news service such as the BBC or the University's News pages, tags, Yahoo! Pipe or Flickr) and creates a shiny widget for embedding in a web-page, or for turning into a Facebook application or Google gadget.

Yahoo! Pipes allow you to bring together (aggregate) several different RSS feeds, filter out duplicate items, add author information, and so on.

Flickr is an online photo storage site, where you can display your photos (either publicly or so that only friends and family can see them), and you can use advanced search to obtain photos for use in presentations and on websites under the Creative Commons licence. is a social bookmarking site, which means it is like bookmarking a favourite page in your web browser, but the bookmarks are saved on the website, and tagged with labels to make them easier for you and others to find. Each page on (whether it's popular tags, all tags, your bookmarks, or one of your tags) has an RSS feed associated with it, which can then be imported to a blidget or an RSS reader.

Jotform is the first web based WYSIWYG form builder. Its intuitive drag and drop user interface makes form building a breeze. Using JotForm, you can create forms, integrate them to your site and collect submissions from your visitors.

Google Scholar provides a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles. You still need an Athens account to log in to many of the resources you can find via Google Scholar, but it searches across all of JSTOR, Ebscohost, Blackwell Synergy, the DNB, Google Books, etc.

Google Books - Google have digitised many books libraries around the world. If the book is out of copyright, you can download the entire book, and search all of its content. Books that are still in copyright only allow a limited search. » More information

These are just two of the many tools offered by Google.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

UK Unitarians on Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging service where you can post links, quotes and items of interest without the need to write a full-size blogpost. Quite a number of UK Unitarians are on there already.
I have also created a group list of UK Unitarians on Twitter.

There may be many others but I haven't found them yet - add a comment and let us know your Twitter address, and if you want to be added to the group list.

Friday, 20 November 2009

International Unitarian & UU websites

The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (founded 1995) is a body devoted to fostering connections between Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist groups around the world. There are about 500,000 Unitarians and Universalists in the world today. Many belong to large church organizations while others rarely meet another Unitarian face-to-face. The oldest groups, who are Hungarian speaking, have a continuous church history of more than 400 years. Some of the English speaking groups go back over 200 years. Many of the newest member and emerging groups have a much shorter history.

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) (founded 1901) is a UK-based charity working for freedom of religion & belief at a global level.

European Unitarian Universalists (founded 1982) is a support network and community for Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and UU fellowships in Europe.

Unitarians in other countries
A - F
G - O
P - Z

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Unitarian Universalist blogs

Many Unitarian Universalists have blogs, and there is more than one blog aggregator for them. (A blog aggregator is a site that gathers content from other blogs - just a snippet of the text, the title and a link, and not the whole blog post, as that would be plagiarism.)

Unitarian Universalist blog aggregators:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Unitarian websites

There are many Unitarian websites at national, regional and local levels. Here's how to find your way around them.

National level
The General Assembly website has recently been re-launched. It has resources for congregations and explains Unitarianism for inquirers. The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is the body in which all Unitarians unite.

Unitarians in the UK & Ireland is a resource about and for Unitarians. It also offers a free website template for Unitarian communities that don't currently have one. It explains what Unitarianism is and how to find Unitarians.

There are several Unitarian societies covering special interests such as music, earth spirituality, history, meditation, peace, all of which have their own website.

There are various commissions, including the Engagement Groups Support Panel, which encourages the development of engagement groups.

Regional level
Most districts have their own website.

Local level
Most churches have their own websites, and you can find these using either the congregation finder on the General Assembly website, or the map of congregations on the Unitarians in UK & Ireland website.

Unitarian videos

The National Unitarian Fellowship are hosting an excellent series of videos about Unitarianism, introducing it, explaining Unitarian values, the Unitarian relationship with the Christian tradition, what a Unitarian service is like, Unitarian social responsibility, and how Unitarianism is organised.

There are also personal views of Unitarianism from Tony McNeile, Jane Barraclough, Hazel Clarke, Stephen Lingwood and Jef Jones.

If you want to write about these in your local newsletter, here are shortened versions of the web addresses: and

There is also a UK Unitarian channel on YouTube.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

National Unitarian Fellowship (NUF)

The NUF, a postal and Internet Fellowship, is always keen to introduce its members to new ways of being a Unitarian through both the printed word and increasingly the opportunities to explore what is available to them on and through the internet.

The well established bi-monthly Viewpoint and Newsletter ensure that those who do not wish, or are not able to use a computer, continue to have the opportunity to contribute and hear what is happening in the Fellowship as well as the wider Unitarian family – news and views. Those wishing to be in contact by correspondence can join one of the letter-writing groups consisting of five or six members each.

The NUF Forum is the longest running Unitarian web community, continuing to grow in numbers and depth. Here Unitarians can discuss issues of the day and get to know and support each other as an ongoing community. The nucleus of longstanding, regular contributors continues to grow as does the material and information offered through the Forum site. Some contribute once or more each week with others dropping in from time to time. Registration is through the NUF website.

This new blog from the Communications Commission is very welcome and the link has already been added to our blog list on the Forum.

The Fellowship has just launched its first e-Learning course adapted for the Internet from The British Unitarian Journey by Rev Dr Vernon Marshall. At this stage it looks promising with the first few members offering some very interesting responses to the set questions. Registration for this is again through the NUF website.

The NUF website is now trying to build up more opportunities to access Unitarian events, meditations, commentaries etc with worship being next on the agenda to be developed. Support by being part of the congregation at Hucklow on Saturday 20th February in the afternoon would be most welcome or even better come along to the UCCN Weekend at The Nightingale Centre. The Fellowship is always open to new avenues and ideas that help Unitarians communicate, network and work with other Unitarians to promote liberal religious values.

Unitarian blogs

There are many Unitarian Universalist blogs and several blog aggregators (sites which bring UU blogs together). There are also several Unitarian bloggers in the British Isles.

Bill Darlison has a blog where he posts his sermons (he updates it regularly but he is using it more as a website than a blog); Stephen Lingwood blogs at Reignite; Andrew Brown blogs at Caute, and Yvonne Aburrow blogs at dance of the elements. If there are any other British or Irish Unitarian bloggers out there, let us know and we'll add your blog to the sidebar.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Gadgets for your website

Many Unitarian websites link to the Belief-O-Matic questionnaire. This is a questionnaire which asks about your views on life, ethics, spirituality, religion, the divine, and so on, and works out what religion you are by comparing you to other people who have answered the questionnaire in the past. One example of a church with a link to the questionnaire is Rosslyn Hill Chapel in London; another is Bristol Unitarians.

Another useful gadget is the Flickr badge, which enables you to display photos uploaded to Flickr (a photo sharing website). Of course you will need some digital photos and a Flickr account first. Once you have joined Flickr, be sure to join the UK Unitarians group and add your photos to the group pool. You can also use photos from Flickr for your website, as long as they are shared via Creative Commons.

Interactive maps
The Unitarians in the UK & Ireland website has a map of all the Unitarian congregations in the UK, and you can zoom in to a region and see all the chapels in that area. You can also embed a chunk of Google map in your website to show where your chapel or church is. See the Bristol Unitarians 'how to find us' page for an example, and Google Help for instructions.

Who has visited
The best tool to use to find out how many people have visited your site is Google Analytics. This is not a web counter, it is a proper statistical application which is very easy to use and produces maps and graphs of your visitors. Don't use web counters - these are notoriously inaccurate, and make your site look amateur.

Another tool that is quite nice is the MyBlogLog Recent Readers widget. This shows when registered MyBlogLog users have visited your blog or wiki. I wouldn't recommend having a guestbook as these are highly vulnerable to spam.

Youtube Videos - Some congregations have created videos and slideshows that have now been put onto Youtube. You can embed video in your own website.

Creative collaboration
Another option is to have a wiki where people can post church-related discussions, activities such as engagement groups, coffee rotas etc. Cambridge Memorial Unitarian Church has a wiki (NB this is not intended to replace their main church website).

Some churches (such as Bristol Unitarians) use a blog as a "poor person's content management system"; others use Google Sites (such as New Unity). This enables multiple contributors to the website, and doesn't necessarily mean that editors need to know HTML, though it does mean they need to be confident with online editing tools (which are usually WYSIWYG).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Introduction and welcome

The Communications Commission met yesterday and decided to have a blog to share good practice and useful resources. Blogging is a great way of communicating and sharing ideas, and we want to encourage more Unitarians to start blogging. Blogging is a way of sharing ideas and thoughts, poetry, sermons, and conversation.

There are many people out there who may well be Unitarians without knowing it - in other words, they already share our outlook on life, the universe and everything, and may be looking for a community to share their spiritual life with, but have never heard of Unitarianism.