Writing for the Web

Readability and Tone

  • The content of your site should be easy to read. Write in a conversational style.
  • Search out and destroy jargon, and avoid obscure acronyms. Even when your audience is internal, it’s important to be aware that other audiences, such as prospective students, are often viewing to get a sense of “what it’s really like”.
  • Online readers expect a personal, upbeat tone. They find bureaucratic writing so offensive and out-of-place that they simply ignore the message it's trying to convey.
  • Write in active voice instead of passive voice (Ex: “Tim taught the class”, instead of “the class was taught by Tim”). Active voice is naturally less bureaucratic.

Scanability

  • Keep your visitors' interest by making headlines and navigation obvious and relevant.
  • 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.
  • Choose lists over paragraphs when possible.
  • Use appropriate text formatting, such as bolding and italics to draw the eye to important points. But don't overdo it—emphasizing nearly everything dilutes the effect.
  • Site viewers tend to move through a Web site in a non-linear, unpredictable manner, making web pages more like newspapers than books. They can enter a site from any page, and move between pages as they choose. As such, it’s best to create content for each page that is not dependent on other sections. Related links can help to guide the reader to background or explanatory information.

Length

  • A page should have at the very least one paragraph of content.
  • Be concise. Remember that your audience is increasingly reading your content on mobile phones. Web readers don't mind scrolling, but you shouldn't make it a mile long! Write short paragraphs and minimize unnecessary words. A length of 300-700 words is reasonable for an average page.
  • If you have a print document that you want to bring to the web remember this very simple rule: a page on the web should be half the length of a similar print document.
  • What do you do if you have more than 700 words? Simple: 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.

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.

Descriptive link text helps all site visitors, but it is particularly important for those using a screen reader. These users often scan through a page’s links, so multiple links that read “Click here” are not helpful.

Search Engine Optimized Writing

In order to achieve maximum search engine visibility, you need to think like a search engine when writing.

Search engines put the text of your page into a database. When a site viewer conducts a search, 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.

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).

In order to rank well:

  • Include keywords your audience is likely to be searching for.
  • Write useful, clear, well organized content.
  • Do not duplicate content, but link to it where appropriate, using keywords. If links to your page include the words that the site viewer searched for, your ranking will improve.

Editorial Standards

(ex. "website" and "email")

Please refer to the University Identity Guide.

Cultural Sensitivities

(language, colloquialisms, acronyms, etc.)

New York University is a global university. Writing on the website should address to the university community while knowing that the outside is viewing. Prospective students do not want to read marketing spin, and they consistently ignore content specifically aimed at them. Instead, they seek content that is addressed at our current students in the hopes they find out "what it’s really like." Thus, we endeavor to put our best content forward to our current students while keeping the writing accessible for prospective students.