How to Write for the Web
This guide is intended to help Weber State employees create informative, user-friendly content for websites. These instructions are based on best practices and federal accessibility standards we are required to meet as a university.
If you have any questions, contact web content manager Anna Burleson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know Your Audience
Is your website for students? Is it for parents? Is it for faculty?
Decide who the majority audience is, and write to those users.
Don’t worry about making your website messages for “everyone.”
Once you know your audience, speak directly to them by using “you” language, rather than third-person references (“you must apply,” not “students must apply”).
Since users will be new to the university:
- Avoid academic jargon.
- Write “What You’ll Learn,” not “Learning Outcomes.”
- Avoid unfamiliar acronyms.
- Most users will understand “WSU,” but they may not know “EW” means Employee Wellness. If you use an acronym, make sure you use the full title on the first reference.
- Don’t assume users already know about other Weber State programs.
Users visit Weber State’s website to perform specific tasks:
- Make a tuition payment
- Find major requirements
- Register for classes
- Find testing center hours
Make it easy for them to accomplish their tasks:
- Determine the most frequently performed tasks on your website, and make them accessible as quickly as possible.
- Put your top tasks higher on the page so they are easier to find.
- Make sure most of your content (at least 80%) focuses on helping users achieve their goals, rather than just marketing your program.
Write for Scanning
Expect your audience to be in a hurry. Write for scanning, not reading.
You can make pages easy to scan by ...
- Putting important information highest on the page.
- Breaking large blocks of text into smaller chunks.
- Use bullet points and ordered lists.
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short (1 to 4 sentences per paragraph, up to 15 words per sentence).
- Writing in the active voice.
- Writing page titles that sum up the content.
- Instead of “Your History Education Starts Here,” write “Bachelor’s Degrees in History.”
- Using straightforward keywords in your text.
- If your page is about studying abroad in China, keywords may include “study abroad,” “China,” and “learning Chinese,” rather than buzz phrases like “student engagement” or “immersion program.”
Users read content in an F pattern, starting at the top left portion of the page: across, then down, across, then down.
Your content will be easier to scan by having it follow this pattern.
Online users have short attention spans.
If they can’t figure out what your page is about within five seconds, you may lose them.
If necessary, have a coworker review your page to make sure it fits the rule.
Write Effective Headings
Effective headings help readers quickly scan webpages to find the information they need. A general rule is to have them work as summaries for the content that follows them. Use the right types of headings to show what content is most important.
- Use an H1 heading as the title of your page.
- Subheadings to your title should be H2 headings.
- Subheadings to your H2s should be H3 headings, etc.
Remember, search engines look for keywords in your headings, so use them.
Do not use headings for any text that is not actually a heading. Instead, bold the text or create a style (see Site Manager font styles).
Headings That Work
- Calls to action
- Declare Your Major
- Find a Career
- Apply for Graduation
- Clear statements
- Withdrawing from Class
- Applying for Financial Aid
- How to Register
- Questions users may ask
- What Can I Do with a Social Work Degree?
- What is 30 in 3?
- What does WSUSA do?
Headings That Don’t Work
- Academic jargon
- Program Administration
- Cooperative Learning Experiences
- Instructional Scaffolding
- Ambiguous words
- Faculty (What about faculty?)
- Additional Information
- Clever titles
- Wildcat Learning
- You da Grad
- Cool Stuff
Don’t make users search for something if you can easily provide a hyperlink.
If you refer to the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships, link to it.
Do not write “Click here.” Clearly identify where the link sends someone: “Visit the Women’s Center website.”
Keep Your Website Current
Why would you even want a website if it doesn’t have relevant information? Schedule times to review and update your website content on a regular basis.