Websites at NYU

For many departments and units at NYU, a website is their first and best point of contact with internal and external audiences, which is why making it useful, clear, and accessible is so important.

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 offensive and out of place to the point they simply ignore the message it’s trying to convey.
  • Write in active voice instead of passive voice (e.g., “Tim taught the class,” not “The class was taught by Tim”). Active voice is naturally less bureaucratic.

Scannability

  • Keep your visitors’ interest by making headlines and navigation obvious and relevant.
  • Put the most important content on your web page in the first paragraph, so that readers scanning your pages will not miss your main idea.
  • Preview how your web pages look “above the fold” before scrolling down. (Make sure to check this on mobile too.)
  • Chunk your content. Cover only one topic per paragraph.
  • Choose lists over paragraphs when possible.
  • Use appropriate text formatting, such as boldface and italics to draw the visitor’s attention to important points. But don’t overdo it—emphasizing nearly everything dilutes the effect.
  • Site viewers tend to move through a website in a nonlinear, 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 guide the visitor to background or explanatory information.

Length

  • A web page should have—at the very least—one paragraph of content.
  • Be concise. Consider your audience reading your content on mobile devices. Web readers don’t mind scrolling, but you shouldn’t make them scroll a mile long! Write short paragraphs and minimize unnecessary words. A length of 300 to 700 words is reasonable for an average page.
  • If you have a print document 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: review the architecture of that content and break it down into sections, leading people to specific portions of the text as much as possible.
  • Preview how your web page looks on laptop and mobile devices. Sometimes the same content renders differently by device.

Search Engine Optimized Writing

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

Search engines put the text of your web page into a database. When a site viewer conducts a search, the search engine queries the database to identify all the pages that include those words on the page and/or in the links pointing to that page.

Once pages are identified, search engines order the results according to relevance. Relevance is determined by dozens of criteria, such as keyword prominence (i.e., how often your keywords appear on a page and where they appear).

In order to rank well:

  • Include keywords your audience will likely search for. Avoid the excessive repetition of keywords to the point the writing no longer feels natural. Search engines will penalize a page with a lower ranking if they feel that one repeated word throughout dominates it. There’s no real benchmark on the maximum times or percentage a keyword can be present before the search engine penalizes the page.
  • Write useful, clear, well-organized content.
  • Do not duplicate content. Instead, link to it where appropriate, using keywords. If links to your page include the words the site viewer searched for, your ranking improves.

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(s) that best describes 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.


Editorial Standards

At NYU, we unify under one voice. In general, NYU Marketing Communications follows The Chicago Manual of Style Online and Merriam-Webster. The NYU Editorial Guide covers our print and digital editorial style as well as our word preferences (e.g., “website,” “web page”, “internet,” “email”). While it is a great place to start, it is not comprehensive. If you have editorial questions, please contact brand@nyu.edu.


Cultural Sensitivities

(E.g., language, colloquialisms, acronyms)

NYU is a global university. Writing on the website should address the university community with the understanding that an external audience is present too. 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 to our current students in the hopes they find out “what it’s really like.” Therefore, we endeavor to put our best content forward to our current students while keeping the writing accessible to prospective students.

For more information on cultural sensitivities, visit the Global Inclusion, Diversity, Belonging, Equity, and Access subsection in the NYU Content Strategy.

Digital Accessibility

Accessibility Checklist

  • Page Title: Is your page title unique and clear?
  • Page Layout: Is your page content presented in a logical flow and organized using headings?
  • Heading Size: Do headings descend in a logical way (e.g., H2, H3)?
    • Include only one H1 tag for each web page.
  • Link Text: Does your link text describe the destination clearly?
  • Images: Do all images have alt text (including “null” for decorative images)?
  • Infographics: Is there a full text explanation for infographics?
  • Color: Do your graphics convey their message without relying on color?
  • Videos: Do you have captions or transcripts for spoken word and audio descriptions for information provided visually?
  • Color Contrast: Is there sufficient contrast between text and background colors?

Additional Resources

Page Headings, Text, and Links

Using Accessible Images and Graphics


Design Considerations

Your main goal should be to create a user-friendly website that allows your audience of diverse abilities to navigate, understand, and use it to achieve their goals.

  • Keep your interface consistent throughout the site. The site’s overall look and feel should be consistent across all pages.
  • Make a page easy to scan. Site visitors typically scan, not read, web pages.
    • Create visual hierarchy. Give your most important elements more visible weight.
    • Avoid long lines of text. Chunk your information in groups to make it easier to skim and digest. Use headers and bulleted lists.
  • Create a grid layout and a responsive reflow pattern that will work on all devices.
  • Design easy-to-use navigation. This helps users find what they need quickly.
  • Reduce the number of choices your user has to make on a page.
  • Remember to create affordances for all interactive buttons (e.g., a button should appear clickable).
  • Change colors of visited links. This helps the user know where they have already been.
  • Test your design to see how people interact with your site.
  • Minimize your use of various typefaces and weights.
  • Choose photos that add meaning to your content.

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