Web Services

Web Writing: Basic Guidelines and Standards

Those closest to the content should be the ones contributing to it. However, writing content for the Web can be a challenge for anyone, and a particular challenge to those tasked with content contribution who are accustomed to writing for print in an academic environment.

Here are a few tips that can help.

Know Your Audience

Who does your current website serve? Students, potential students, donors, faculty, staff, or all of the above?

If your site is geared toward several audiences, then determine which group is primary, which group is secondary and so on. Once you have your audiences identified, concentrate on your primary audience. Begin to develop or edit your content targeting it toward your most sought after users.

» View Example

Review And Organize Your Content

Take a close look at your current content. What parts of that content are most important to your primary users? Again, prioritize your content into "most important", "important", and "least important" Keep the most important material as your building blocks for other content to follow. Group content into sections to organize thoughts and topics.

As content contributors, we are obligated to provide our users with the material they seek in a direct and concise manner.

Don't assume your readers have knowledge of the subject or have read related pages on your site. Clearly explain things so each page can stand on its own.

Less Is More

Be concise. Some of us have trouble throwing things away. The compulsion to hang onto words is one of the most difficult but necessary habits to overcome when preparing web content. Web sites are not filing cabinets.

Keep in mind that most of your audience will prefer to scan your pages for needed information. By using smart headers, bulleted lists, links, graphics and text segments that know when to start and more importantly when to stop, you can give your audience the visual clues it needs to keep them on your page and consume the important information they desire.

Keep It Simple

  • Keep language simple and avoid jargon and acronyms – your reader may be unaware of technical or in-house terms.
  • Write as if you are talking to the reader; it presents a more friendly face to your website.
  • Write in short sentences (guideline : max 20-25 words).
  • Break up long paragraphs (guideline: three to five sentences).
  • Use the active voice e.g. “Students love TMCC” rather than “TMCC is loved by students”. Tell your visitors what to do. Keep the flow of your pages going.
  • Avoid content that is built around internal org charts or clogged with mission statements designed for internal use.
  • Reduce bloated introductory text e.g. “Welcome to our new web page...”
  • You could remove it altogether but, used well, the introductory text should help people better understand the rest of the page and answer two main questions:
    • What will the visitor find on this page, i.e., what is the purpose of the page
    • Why should visitors view your page – what’s in it for them

Use Links Effectively (No "Click Here")

Make links meaningful. It is helpful to the reader if the link tells them what they are linking to. Web usability experts discourage the use of the phrase "click here" for links. Don’t use them! Instead use an ​accurate description of the linked content ​worked into a sentence.

So, rather than saying “click here for the college handbook”, you would say “download the college handbook”. This is especially important for people with visual impairments who use screen readers.

Wrong: "To find out more about the Print Policy at TMCC, click here."
Right: "For more information, view the Print Policy at TMCC.”

Also, avoid quoting the URL in full; there is no point and some URLs are extremely long. The user merely wants to click on the link and be taken to the page.

Wrong: "Visit the Admissions and Records website at"
Right: "Visit Admissions and Records"

Also, when you want to say "contact our department" or "contact us" be sure to link to your department's "Contact Us" Web page and do not link to an individual's email address.

You may also link to your department's faculty/staff page where all of the contact information for each individual is located. This way, as personnel changes occur, the website links stay current and viable.

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Use Headers and Subheaders (Headlines)

Headlines have the ability to either hook or deter the reader. Ideally they should define the page content as fully as possible with as few words as possible. Because people tend to scan-read screens, splitting your page using meaningful headings, makes it easier for them to find information.

Headings provide several functions: they provide a logical structure to the page. This also helps people using screen readers to build up an image of what the layout of the page looks like.

Search engines take note of headings, so it is important that they include, where possible, important key words or phrases. This helps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Using information-loaded words in your headings helps users that are scanning down your page.

Remember to use proper casing for your headers/subheaders.

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Use Bulleted Lists Smartly

They are your friend. Web visitors love them and so should you. Web visitors don’t read, they scan, and lists help them scan efficiently. Don’t over do it though and make an entire page based on an outline format.

Avoid "extreme bulleting" -- nesting bullets beyond one or two levels can lose your audience. For legal documents it may be required; however, for web content it is just annoying!

» View Example

Use An Active Voice

By using the subject-verb-object format—putting the subject at the start of the sentence whenever possible.

Wrong: An umbrella was bought by Tom.
Right: Tom bought an umbrella.

Say What You Need To Say Once And Say It Well

Eliminate redundancies. If you struggle to explain your point and resort to terms like “in other words” or “in short,” you aren’t saying it right. Regroup your thoughts and try again.

Stay On Message And Get To The Point Quickly

No one loves tangents more than writers, it’s true, but Web writers must exclude indulging in interesting but unnecessary information. Resist, resist, resist. You have about one second to grab the visitors’ attention.

Use "Inverted Pyramid" Construction On Top Level Pages

Load the most important information at the top of the page and at the top level of the website. Often this is a few sentences or bullet points. The goal is to capture the interest of site visitors.​ Save the more specialized and lengthy pages for deeper levels of the site.

Downloadable PDF File or Webpage?

Web content can be generated from a collection of various documents, PDFs and spreadsheets.

Criteria for making PDF content:

  • If the content is a manual or handbook, longer than 10 printed pages, ​or intended to be read as a whole, post the document as a PDF to download.
  • If the original document ​contains complex graphics, screen shots or layouts it is better to post it as a PDF to download.
  • It is recommended that all committee minutes are posted as PDF documents.
  • However, If the content is ​short and non-graphical, or could be broken into sections (e.g., policies and procedures) it is best to turn it into a straight-HTML page.
  • If a form can be submitted via email it is always better to make it an HTML form vs. a PDF form. Contact Web Services to create all HTML forms for the website.