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Communications and Marketing Office

 

 

Writing for the Web

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This is a brief summary of things to consider when writing content for the website. For more detailed instruction, there are many other resources available, including:

 

Basic Writing Strategies

Make content scannable:

  • Be concise: Write short and straightforward sentences. Younger audiences - more than other age groups - want fewer words and more scannable pages. Because people read about 25 percent slower on screen, experts say web content should be half as long as its print counterpart. Ex. Mission and Vision
  • Break up large blocks of text: Divide the text into short chunks with clear headings that convey your major points. Use bullets, lists and numbered steps. Numbered steps help users know if they have completed all the necessary tasks. Ex. Your Path to Success
  • Get to the point: Bring the important material to the top. Don't make users slog through an entire page to get the essential info. If your users read only the first sentence, what should it be? If they read only the first paragraph, will they find the info that is most useful? Can your audience get the basic idea of the page by reading your headings? Ex. Hiring Firms
  • Write for how people search: Use the keywords your audience will scan for (even if the words aren't what insiders in your office will call things). Include the terms users search for in your links, page titles and headlines to help search engines find your pages. For more information, read Search Engine Optimization. Ex. International Students

 

Make content clear:

  • Create meaningful titles: The title is the first piece of information the user reads. It should contain the basic idea of the page. Ex. Applying to SAU
  • Choose simple words: Avoid long sentences, complex punctuation and uncommon words. Don't say "make a decision" when you could say "decide." And don't call your link "complete an application" when "apply" makes the point in a faster way.
  • Create clear links: Links should be short, but not cryptic. Choose keywords or phrases that let the user know where the link will direct them if they click on it. When used in text, the link should be the action, title of the document or site that you're going to rather than "click here." Example: "Apply to St. Ambrose University." instead of "To apply, click here."

 

Make content engaging:

Ex. Get to Know Us

  • Pay attention to tone: In strict academic writing, one always refers to one's peers in the third person. In writing for the web, use "you." It's natural, conversational and personal. Tone should be consistent with St. Ambrose's established voice on other web pages.
  • Use action verbs: Help your audience members identify the transactions they can do on your website. Examples: Set up an appointment with a counselor, contact our office, assemble your class schedule, learn about our services.
  • Make like a magazine: Mix various writing styles. Parts of your website - scholarship applications, admissions requirements - may require matter-of-fact writing. But your entire website doesn't have to sound bureaucratic. Make some pages fun.
  • Write as though you are talking to a friend: Your website communicates to thousands of people, but always one at a time.

 

When writing FAQs:

Example: Graduate Admissions FAQ

  • If you don't know which questions are the most common, ask the person who fields most of your phone calls. That person will know for sure!
  • Keep your list short. Shoot for about 10 items. If you have a longer list, sort your FAQs by topic or subtopic.
  • Don't be repetitive. If a topic is already covered on your site in detail, don't rewrite it as an FAQ answer. Just link to the info already on your website. By avoiding duplicated information, it will be easier to keep your site updated.
  • Keep your answers short and direct. Don't babble on and on.
  • Use your audience's language. Avoid administrator-speak. People outside the university won't know our insider jargon - and shouldn't have to. When you use the language of your audience, you aren't dumbing things down. You're communicating clearly - and improving the image of your school.
  • Be conversational. Write the answer as though you were talking to a person standing in front of you. Be conversational, not terse. Tip: Read your answers aloud. If they sound like a tax form, your FAQs need fixing!

 

Always proofread:

Check your links and facts (ex. contact and financial information), run spell check and ask a colleague to proof the content.

Plan for updates:

Creating the website is the easy part; updating it is the real challenge. Set a schedule.