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Writing for the web

Keep the needs of your audience in mind as you write and organize your content for the web.

Useful and useable

Most website users want to complete a task quickly, not linger. They have little patience for reading long, dense blocks of text on a screen.

Users scan—they don't read every word on the page. Help your users by providing content that is:

  • useful: information they need to make a decision or accomplish a task
  • useable: presented in a logical, orderly manner

Content  

Avoid simply transferring content that has been written for other media to the web. Content from printed brochures, long research articles, and similar sources should be reorganized and rewritten for the web. Try to use:

Short, familiar words instead of long, formal words.

Simple and straightforward sentence structure.

Active voice, rather than passive voice.

Lists that draw attention to important points and cause the scanning eye to slow down

  • bulleted lists for unordered information
  • numbered lists when order is important

More suggestions

Keep your content up-to-date. Be sensitive to dated information and revise it in a timely fashion.

Maintain university standards for use of copyrighted material. Educational institutions cannot claim "fair use" in appropriating material without permission. Follow the same standards set for students. UMass Dartmouth's policy: umassd.edu/cits/policies/copyright/

Organization

Break up content into concise blocks of information using content "chunks."

Begin with the most important information.

Avoid introductory material such as welcome messages and paragraphs about what the reader will find in the site or on the page.

Use brief, news-style headings and subheadings to guide the reader through the sections.

  • Heading 2 (<h2> tag), heading 3 (<h3> tag), and so on, provide structure to the content.
  • Screen readers for the visually impaired read heading levels and provide a navigable list of headings that allows the user to jump to parts of the web page.
  • The T4 content management system automatically tags the text in the Title field as <h1>.

Plan your page breaks

  • Don’t force the user to link to a subsequent page for a small amount of content.
  • On the other hand, consider breaking up long pages to avoid endless scrolling. (On longer pages, use headings and, if appropriate, on-page menus to guide the user through the content.

Format

UMass Dartmouth's text style is flush left—that is, lining up against the left margin. We've set T4's text editor to work this way.

Use a consistent heading style

  • The "down" style uses an initial cap for the first word (and proper nouns) only. This style is consistent with university print publications.
  • "Headline" style uses initial cap for every word (except for short words like "a").

All upper-case text is never acceptable for headings (or text).

Headings that introduce lists should not be followed by a colon.

Avoid italics and underlining

  • A lengthy block of italicized text is difficult to read on the screen.
  • On the web, an underline implies a link and should not be used for emphasis.

Alt tags for images  

Provide text equivalent (alt tag) for images. Describe the image so that a person unable to see the image can understand the content and meaning. You do not need to include the words "image" or "photo" in the alt tag.

In T4, use the description field in the media library for an image's alternate (alt) text.

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