The Web is different. Online readers scan Web pages
instead of reading every word (Jakob Nielsen).
This guide will give you quick access to standards and formats to
help you write successful and consistently readable content.
Writing for the Web is about making your writing easier to read
and use, not dumbing down your ideas. Help readers by writing for
- Write in the journalistic “inverted
pyramid” style: Clearly state your most important idea
- Use meaningful subheads to help readers find the content they
- Highlight key phrases and words to draw visitors’
- Use links to provide easy access to background information and
(again) highlight key phrases and words.
- Use one idea per paragraph. As in newspapers, one-sentence
paragraphs are perfectly legitimate on the Web.
- Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. If you must use an acronym,
handle it as you would on paper: Spell it out in the first usage on
each page and then use the abbreviation thereafter.
- Use bulleted lists to pull out key ideas.
Make sure the content you especially want your visitors to see
is visible without scrolling.
Visitors will scroll, especially if they can tell there’s
content that interests them lower on the page. It’s still a
good idea to ensure that the first thing they see is the content
you most want them to see!
Check how you organize your content and think about the
proportions of each piece. A well-chosen image can convey your
department’s unique character in an appealing way.
However, placing a large picture at the top of your page hides your
other content, making it less likely that users will scroll down to
Authentic voice sounds true and genuine, the way we speak in a
conversation. Readers pay attention and listen to writing that
sounds like a person is talking. Use inviting and professional
language. Write to your readers in the second-person narrative:
Address your audience directly, using “you” and
Example: “Your research project, designed in
conjunction with your faculty mentor, will match your interests and
abilities with the needs of the research group. In our program, you
will work on a project that interests you.”
Please adhere to UB's editorial style guidelines where they apply to
formal names of offices, programs and titles. This will ensure
clarity and consistency across the visitor's experience with any of
our websites, which you will recall is one of the basic tenets in
the DCT process.
We also encourage use of proper grammar as a general practice;
however, some rules that are often sacrosanct in formal print
publications may merit more leniency for online users, provided it
is for a good reason. Some examples include:
- sentence fragments are permissible when they allow brevity; for
example, in headings like "About Us"
- use numerals even for whole numbers less than 10
- paragraphs can be as short as one sentence
For more, please read Jakob Nielsen's short article, Break Grammar Rules on Websites for
The content you produce for a print
publication is not always ideal for the Web. Rewriting can be
well worth the time it takes. Context will determine how much
rewriting you need to do. For example, articles from an alumni
magazine that need to be posted on the magazine’s website do
not need to be rewritten. However, they probably could benefit from
packaging that optimizes the platform, e.g. includes such things as
multimedia, pull quotes, subheads, related links and more images
than you might have had “space” for in the printed
Keep It Short
On the Web, concise is generally better. Use
short paragraphs and pick short words. Using “about”
instead of “approximately” or “use” instead
of “utilize” can improve readability. Cutting unneeded
words also helps.
Before: “The Department of
Biology has already seen its enrollment grow by an incredible 10
percent in the past three years.”
After: “The biology
department has seen enrollment grow by 10 percent in three
Consider Our International
Our university is of great interest to people
for whom English is not their first language, and who may not
immediately (or ever) understand some of the nuances of our
colloquialisms and jargon. Sometimes even quite common phrasings
may be confusing or even alarming to them. Our Solutions Group on Sept. 8, 2016 provided some
excellent details about this pitfall (15 minutes).