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Don’t auto-truncate text to create snippets – part 2

September 20, 2009 2 Comments

The other day I advised not truncating text automatically when describing pages on your navigation pages, after the Express reported public sector borrowing at £16.1.

Owen: nail biting man?

Owen: nail biting man?

They've done it again with the report of Man U's victory over Man City, which is described thus: "Manchester United have brought home victory after a nail-biting Man".

Presumably Michael Owen is the nail-biting man in question - he did have to wait until the 99th minute or something ridiculous to score the winner.

If you're going to have navigation pages that have a sentence or two to describe featured stories, then make the content authors write them. Don't just take the first X characters, or it will often look stupid.

(And I'm not even going to mention the article in the 'More breaking news' list that says 'Andy must access the wrist ...'.)

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  • Martin Belam says:

    What are you suggesting as an alternative here? Having all snippets edited by hand online, or giving writers a strict character limit for their opening paragraph / standfirst / slug which would also apply to the paper as well as online in a combined workflow?

    • I like my online stories to have an equivalent of a newspaper standfirst - I think it helps people understand what the story is about more than just a headline can. (I know I don't do it here before you say that, but I sometimes do EG bullet lists of what's in longer posts.)

      So to do it really easily, use the standfirst as the navigation-page text snippet - and make sure your template designs can cope with this dual use space-wise.

      Or use the meta description as the text snippet on the navigation page, which one would also hope wasn't being created automatically.

      Or use the first sentence (but allow the text snippet to be as long as the first sentence - the Mail homepage design allows multiple initial sentence to be used in some cases and single sentences in others with no obvious character limit).

      Or failing all that, make whoever is deciding which stories appear on the front page write / edit the text snippet.

      So if the design can cope with long text, use something that exists already with no character limit. If it can't, redesign (!) or impose a character limit. But it's something the design and editorial teams need to think about together during the design process.

      But either way, don't just look a bit stupid ... (of course, this story suggests no subing of any sort, on or off line, goes on)

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