Writing for the Web


In addition to the University Style Guide, the following Web writing guidelines should be followed.

Four questions to consider about your text:

1.    Is it clear?
2.    Can it be simpler?
3.    Can it be shorter?
4.    Is it necessary?

Know your audience.

Understanding your target web users and what information or actions are important to them. Remember that most web users (about 80 percent) scan web pages instead of reading them and do not access information sequentially.

Prioritize your content.

  • Place key facts the users want at the top of your site, especially the first two paragraphs. This follows the F-Shaped Pattern.
  • Defer non-essential text. Welcome letters, historical information, mission statements, strategic plans and biographies are better placed in the text of subsites rather than on your opening page.
  • Remember the three-click rule.  Try to make it less than four clicks to get to any data.
  • Organize information by how people search, not the structure of your department.

Simplify your content.

  • Break your information into smaller segments.
  • Avoid excessive scrolling to the bottom, especially for the first page of site.
  • Keep sentences simple.
  • Use headings (heads) and subheads to partition your content.
    • Use ALL CAPS for heads and subheads.
    • Use an ampersand (&) instead of spelling out "and."
  • Use bulleted lists when it makes sense to organize a series of data or steps.
  • Keep it short. Use fewer words than in print. Guidelines:
    • Heads and subheads: 1–5 words
    • Sentences: 8–20 words
    • Paragraphs: 2–10 sentences
    • Pages: 200–500 words

Put information in context. Writing for print (linear text) is not necessarily effective on the Web (hypertext).

  • Hyperlinks make a difference. Instead of digressing about a topic, link to it.
  • Talk to the user when giving instructions. Write in the second person, "you."
  • Write active sentences. Start bullet points with powerful action words.
  • Avoid overuse of parentheses, use commas and em dashes when possible.
  • Be mindful of textual differences from print.
    • Sentence spacing. Use only one space between sentences.
    • Italics. Italics slow down a reader on the Web; use them sparingly, 1-5 words.
    • Underline. Avoid underlining on the Web, because it implies a hyperlink.
    • En dashes. An en dash normally is used to separate inclusive dates and numbers. In these cases, en dashes should be typeset closed.
      • May 9–10 from 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m
    • Em dashes. In printed matter em dashes are closed between two words without spaces, but on the Web, inserting spaces before and after can improve viewing in browsers. For example:
    • PRINT: on weekends—hours that most
    • WEB: on weekends — hours that most

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