Monday, July 18, 2011

“About Us” Evaluation: Chicago Manual of Style Gets an A

The Chicago Manual of Style first appeared in 1906, as a handbook for typographers at the University of Chicago Press. Now in its sixteenth edition, it is one of the most widely used guides to grammar, usage, and document preparation for American English. The main About Us page is here.


Personality: A

The only people mentioned on the Chicago Manual of Style site are the eminent figures on the Advisory Board. This is perfectly appropriate, since the Manual is portrayed as an impersonal authority on currently accepted usage--not as a group of writers with quirks of their own.

The image of an impersonal authority is buttressed by the substantial page devoted to the history of the Manual, which stresses its origins as the handbook for a university press with advisors in publishing and academia. We would like to see that large block of text broken up with some illustrations: covers of earlier editions are the obvious choice.

The layout--a sturdy, legible font in pink, green, and blue on a white background--matches the personality the Manual is projecting: classic with a modern edge. We were particularly struck by this in contrast to Berkshire Hathaway’s site, where the colors are similar but both the font and the colors seem to be computer defaults.

Products/Services: A+
Since the bulk of the Manual’s sales are probably current users buying updated editions, it’s a great touch to have pages listing what’s new in the 16th edition and significant rule changes. We love the offer of the first edition of the Manual as a free PDF. It reminds readers that the Manual has been in use for a hundred years, but also gives us a glimpse into how usage has changed, and presumably will keep on changing. All the more reason to buy the latest edition of the Manual.

Accessibility: B
Contact information is buried under “Help,” but the options are perfectly adequate to this particular site: contact customer service, report a problem with the site, or submit a question.

This is a nearly perfect, laser-focused site for a single product that relies largely on repeat customers. It’s simple and elegant, with the on the authority of the product and the customer’s need for the latest version.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company, although CMS is our style guide of choice.