Writing for the Web
Voice communicates who we are. Tone shapes what we’re saying.
Web writing is far more casual than other types of writing. We opted to use second person (you, yours) throughout the core site to achieve a casual voice. We sometimes switched to third when circumstances called for it, such as adopting a more serious tone on the Academics landing page.
Web Writing Best Practices
Keep the style/voice consistent, and adjust tone to suit the context.
Ideally, the writing style/voice is the same across the site, whether talking about a campus gathering, course registration, or a student award. The tone can shift according to the topic at hand and the particular audience.
For instance, the PSGA pages can be more fun and casual than the Registrar’s; Alumni should foster school pride more enthusiastically than CTS.
You don’t need to be as enthusiastic when discussing parking policies as you are when describing student life. But in both instances, your voice should be knowledgeable, direct, and personable.
Writing should always be warm, welcoming, and helpful.
As a marketing tool to capture and engage prospective new students and donors, it should be inspiring, engaging, and reflect our inclusive/creative/DIY campus ethos.
Use This, Not That exercise to narrow down tone.
- Serious, not Stuffy
- Compassionate, not Babying
- Proud, not Arrogant
- Inspiring, not Cloying
- Reassuring, not Glib
- Concise, not Terse
Keep writing simple, clear, and relevant.
- Keep word counts low.
- 300-500 words maximum per page
- 100-250 for landing pages
- People read slower on a screen.
- Avoid using jargon or acronyms.
Use plain language and read it out loud before publishing.
- You should sound natural and not stumble.
- Use active voice.
- Use conversational language—conversations build relationships.
Guide Your Readers
Break up copy into scannable chunks.
- People scan more than read on a screen and only read about 20% of a page’s content.
- Limit paragraphs to a single idea.
- Use short paragraphs. Aim for 70 words or less each.
Use lists, bullets, or tables to simplify longer copy.
- Be sure they are consistent in structure—don’t mix sentences and phrases.
- Use periods after full sentences.
- Be sure they align grammatically—don’t mix verbs and nouns to begin new bullets.
Use headings and subheadings to guide readers and break up copy.
- Introduce new sections with sub-headings.
- Make headers descriptive, clear, and short.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations, acronyms or other inside information.
- Use white space to help readers.
- Using headers is also best practices for ADA-compliance.
Show, more than tell.
- Use images with captions to share information when possible.
Use links to guide users to relevant information.
- Make links contextual. Hyperlink natural language—phrases or sentences—as opposed to “click here.”
- Links should be roughly 4–8 words in length.
- Make inline copy links to direct users to topics or items mentioned. You should always link to:
- Offices and services
- Academic programs
- People (faculty and staff profiles)
- Pages on the site that provide more detail (parking; transportation; dining; facilities; campus map.)
- Email addresses