Standards: Writing for the Web

When preparing content for the web it is important to understand that people read copy differently when it is on a website. Readers scan text instead of reading word by word. Reading off a computer screen can be tiring for the eyes. They are usually hurried and looking for something specific, or want to complete a task. They may come to your page directly (not through the home page) and will not know how it fits with the rest of the website. They often distrust web content unless its credibility is made clear. There is an expectation that information on the web will be more up-to-date than printed information. There are millions of other web pages competing for the reader’s attention, and it is easy to move on to someone else’s website. 

A usable website is one that supports the user to find the information they need or to complete their transaction in an efficient manner. Usable websites:  

  • Have content and structure that is user-centered
  • Follow usability conventions
  • Are accessible
  • Are content-rich, well-written, and up-to-date
  • Are well organized and structured, with simple and consistent navigation
  • Are fast to download
  • Balance functionality with accessibility
  • Are easy to maintain, and updated regularly
  • Help users complete tasks

Most of these qualities are influenced by, if not directly dependent on, the quality of the written material in the website. 

What types of information should not be placed on web pages?

  • Information or graphics, music, or video that violates copyright laws
  • Information that violates federal, state, or local laws
  • Information that violates or does not adhere to university policy
  • Information that is for commercial use or for private business purposes
  • Information or graphics that are pornographic, obscene, injurious, harassing, or defamatory
  • Rumors, hearsay, or unverified reports about the university or its programs  

Plan Ahead

To ensure you capture your audience, it is essential that you check that the information on your pages are up-to-date and correct, and don’t repeat or contradict information that already exists on the university website.

It is important that you research your target audience and plan your information accordingly.

Each page should be self-contained. Providing context to your pages helps readers know where they are if they come straight to your page.

For each page, create a unique list of keywords—single words and short phrases that describe the content of the page. Used well, keywords can help make a web page easy to read, scan, navigate, and understand. Keywords can also improve search results by virtue of where they appear in the web page.

A. How people read your content

Most people will quickly scan a webpage initally. From this first impression, they will decide whether or not the content is of interest to them and worth the time it will take to read it in full.

B. Help people scan

Break up and optimize your content so it can be easily scanned and the important points grasped quickly. Use some or all of the following:

  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Subheadings
  • Bold and italics
  • Bullet points and numbered lists

Also, make use of empty space (or "white space") so your content does not appear too cluttered.

C. Choose your words carefully

Use active words in headings and subheadings that will serve to motivate or entice the reader. Write from the viewpoint of your audience, and make sure each heading is appropriate for the content that follows. Also be aware of how headings play a part in search engine optimization.

D. Colored text

Be careful not to overuse colored text. No more than three colors is recommended: one for headings, one for regular text and one for links. However, if you update your site via Drupal, some CSS classes can be used to color text and links. For information on how to do this, please see the following post on the Web Team blog: Styling text and positioning images in Drupal.

E. General tips

  • Don't have every piece of content competing for the reader's attention. When everything stands out, nothing does. Decide on a hierarchy.
  • Avoid excessive scrolling where possible. When topics change, consider creating a new page.
  • Link to and from related websites and pages. This allows the reader to find out more about certain topics, while also making your content more attractive to search engines.
  • Avoid putting content in PDF format and then linking to it from a webpage. Less people will read it and search engines won't be able to index it easily. It is much better to take the content from the PDF, repurpose it for the web (i.e. add links where appropriate, consider using SEO-friendly headings, etc.), and publish it as a webpage.

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