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UniversityMarketing and Communications

Writing for the Web

Digital content, like print, should adhere to SCU standards to create a cohesive voice for the University. The guidelines in this section are intended to assist content creators in professionally and consistently representing SCU on all digital platforms.

Writing for the Web

While we apply the same general principles to writing for the Web as we do for print pieces, there a number specific approaches to keep in mind for writing digital content.

Quick Tips

  • Write clear, simple,targeted, and effective content.
  • The content of your site should be easy to read for everyone, preferably in a conversational style.
  • Front-load your text. Put the most important content on your page in the first paragraph, so that readers scanning your pages will not miss your main idea.
  • Chunk your content. Cover only one topic per paragraph.
  • Be concise. Write short paragraphs and minimize unnecessary words.
  • Write in active voice instead of passive voice. (Ex: ‘Prof. Kesten taught the class’ instead of ‘the class was taught by Prof. Kesten’.)
  • Choose lists over paragraphs when possible, to make your content easier to scan.

More Details

Limit page length. Web readers don't mind scrolling, but you shouldn't make it excessively long. 

Writing content for the Web is not the same as writing it for a print publication. If you have a print document that you want to transition to the Web, remember this very simple rule: a webpage should be half the length of a similar print document. So, 250-600 words is a reasonable average length for any online content.

If you have more than 600 words, look at the architecture of that content, and break it down into sections, leading people to specific portions of the text as much as possible. It’s your job as a Web author to guide your site viewers to the content you want them to consume.

 

Keep it brief, but not too brief:

Most site visitors normally move through a website in a non-linear way, so your webpages should include:

  • At the very least one paragraph of content.
  • Independent content, for example accordion-format (like the one you're reading now)
  • Headlines and body copy that stand on their own.
  • Content for each page that is not dependent on other sections, with related links to help guide the reader to background or explanatory information. Don’t assume that the reader has already scanned information on the prior page, or even the home page.

Online readers expect a personal, upbeat tone in Web writing. They find bureaucratic writing so offensive and out-of-place that they simply ignore the message it's trying to convey. To avoid bureaucratic language, turn the tone down a notch. Search out and destroy jargon.

Write in the active voice (We will customize the curriculum for your department.) rather than the passive voice (The curriculum will be customized for your department.) Active voice, which emphasizes the "doer" of the action, is naturally less bureaucratic.

 

Understanding that people read web pages differently than other media is key to writing and laying out content that will promote your relevant topics.

Think about reading a webpage like reading a newspaper. When you pick up a newspaper, you don't start with the first word and read all the way to the bottom of the page like you would with a book, do you? Of course not.

You scan the front page for headlines that stand out, stopping on the ones that seem interesting, and then you read through the related article. Or you see a headline for a story on Page 2 or another section entirely and turn the page to view that story immediately.

People approach websites the same way. No matter what page they enter on, they scan the page for something that will keep their interest. Headlines, bullet items, text formatting and clear navigation all help the scanability of your page. If they came looking for something specific, they are immediately on the lookout for more information about that topic of interest.

In a nutshell:

  • Make sure all main pages are easily scanable.
  • Keep your visitors' interest by making your headlines and navigation items obvious and relevant.
  • Use appropriate text formatting, such as bolding and italics to draw the eye to important points.
  • Don’t hide your links to other content by changing the color or removing the underline.
  • These cues help visitors quickly find what they are looking for.

Write clear links. Don't create links that use the phrase 'click here.' Write the sentence as you normally would, and place the link anchor on the word or words that best describe the additional content you are linking to. Between one and five words is the ideal length for an effective hypertext link.

To achieve maximum search engine visibility, you need to think like a search engine when writing. Search engines look at the HTML code that makes up your webpage and attempt to parse out the text on the page, eliminating the HTML markup used for layout. The text goes into the search engine's database.

When a site viewer conducts a search on the search engine, the database is queried to identify all the pages that include those words on the page and/or in the links pointing to that page. So if your page does not include the words the site viewer was searching for, it is unlikely that your page will rank well, if at all. The same holds true when none of the links to that page include the words that the site viewer searched for in the link text (the clickable text that forms the link).

Once pages have been identified, search engines order the results according to relevance. Relevance can be determined based on dozens and dozens of criteria, such as keyword prominence (how often your keywords appear on a page, and where they appear).

Our A to Z Editorial Style Guide applies to Web writing as it does for print. The guide includes advice on how to write certain words and phrases, how to show numbers and dates, when to use capital letters, abbreviations and acronyms, apostrophes, commas, quotations, titles, and much more. You don’t have to remember it all, just refer to our house style guide whenever you need an answer.