Writing for the web guidelines

Our guidelines can help you:

  • understand how web users read online
  • streamline your pages so that users can find what they need 
  • create copy that users will want to read 
  • make sure that your pages are consistent with the University‚Äôs brand and tone of voice

For further specialist guidance on how to write well for your audience, see guidance from Gov.uk.

Quick tips

  • Use headings throughout your text
  • Put important information first
  • Break up the content into short paragraphs
  • Ensure your content is succinct using as few words as possible
  • Use lists and bullet points
  • Use the active voice and pronouns
  • Make your link text descriptive
  • Ensure your link text is the same as the heading on the target page

Common mistakes

  • Don't have a welcome message on your webpage.
  • Never use 'click here', 'download', 'more' or 'link to' as link text  
  • Avoid using generic references to time such as 'today' or 'next week'
  • Avoid using jargon and acronyms
  • Don't use a large splash image or full width tile at the top of your page

Why is it important to write specifically for the web?

1. People read differently online

People read very differently online compared to print. They generally come to a webpage with a task in mind. If your webpage doesn't help them complete that task, they'll leave.

User research shows that people only read about a quarter of a webpage as they scan it quickly to find the information they need. On average, a webpage has 3 seconds to grab the attention of the reader, and 5 seconds to keep it. 

2. To meet accessibility requirements

Content should be written and formatted so that it is optimally available to users with disabilites who might be using specialist software, such as screen readers or magnifiers.

Making content accessible not only helps disabled users, but also users who have English as a second language.

3. There is so much competing content

There are millions of other webpages competing for the attention of the reader. Unless a user can quickly find the information they need, they will look elsewhere.

 

Define your page

When writing content for a webpage, firstly ensure you are clear about what the purpose of your page is. 

Work out your target audiences and key objectives. Ask yourself:

  • who is this webpage for?
  • what do they want to find out?
  • what is the message you want to communicate

Once you have established this, leave out any information that does not meet the objectives of your audience and is not part of the main message of the webpage.

Job stories are a useful methodology that you can use to create focused and succinct web content. 

Structuring and formatting content

Structuring and formatting your content well allows readers to quickly find the information they want.

Use a clear heading that establishes context

Name your page clearly.

  • Your heading should articulate the subject matter of the page.
  • Your visitor may have come from google, social media, internal search or another site so the heading enables the user to understand what the page is about. 
  • Avoid welcome messages on a site. These are unnecessary additional words that are unhelpful to the user.

Do not use:
Welcome to the School of Life Sciences website 

Do use:
School of Life Sciences

Put important information first 

Front-loading content helps users quickly establish whether they have found the right page.

The inverted pyramid method is a journalistic method which can help you structure content so that it is easily scannable:

  • start with the most important information first (who, what, where, when, why)
  • follow with any supporting information
  • end by giving the background

Do not use:
Students and staff currently access the library database of journals from their campus desktop using the Library Journal Application [LJA]. The LJA allows you to search for journals by author, date published, title and subject.  We have been working with the vendors of  the LJA and have now renegotiated our contract so that you may access library journals from off-campus using a web browser such as Internet Explorer.

Do use:
Students and staff may now access library journals from off-campus using a web browser.

We have improved the contract with our Library Journal Application vendors to allow this to happen You may still search for journals by author, date published, title and subject. 

No banner splash

Don't use a a full width banner splash or tile at the top of your page (unless the splash is the only call to action on the page). A banner feature is a barrier to information and measurement during summer 2020 has shown that 10-15% of visitors do not scroll beyond the banner.

Use meaningful headings throughout the text

Break up text with informative subheadings [h1-h6]. This helps the reader to scan for information.

Headings should:

  • be descriptive - they should be able to stand on their own and be understood out of context
  • use questions or statements

Do not use:

Facilities

Staff and students have access to a range of library services across campus

Do use:

What library facilities are available?

Staff and students have access to a range of library services across campus

Break down your content into manageable chunks

Use short concise paragraphs.

  • Long sentences and paragraphs act as a wall of text which is harder for a reader to digest. 
  • Keep it to one idea per paragraph to make content easily digestible.
  • A one sentence paragraph is okay.

Be succinct and easy to read

Brevity is key. Read through your content and get rid of unnecessary words which make it harder for the reader to scan.

  • When you think you have finished, look again. Cut, cut and cut your text until it is at its most essential message.
  • Use the Hemingway app to improve readability of sentences.

Use lists and bullet points

Use bulleted or numbered lists wherever possible. This makes it easier for the reader to scan and absorb the content.

  • Don't limit yourself to using this for long lists - lists can be as short as two bullet points.
  • One sentence with two bullet points is easier to read than three sentences.

Use white space

Format your content to ensure you include enough use of white space.

This will reduce the noise on the webpage, making it easier for users to scan.

Use bold sparingly

Minimise your use of bold text.

  • Bold text should be used for headings and then sparingly for any other emphasis.
  • Too much bold makes text harder to read.

Using links

Labelling links

Links should be labelled descriptively, using text that accurately describes the content you are linking to.

  • Use part of the actual referencing sentence as the link. 
  • Aim for the link to be 4 to 8 words in length.
  • Never use generic terms, such as 'click here', 'download' or 'more' as link text. This can be confusing for users who are using screen reading technology.
  • Avoid saying 'up to' or 'back to' in a link, as visitors may enter your site at any page and may not share your sense of back and up.

Do not use:
To find out more about writing for the web, click here

Do use:
Find out more about writing for the web

Avoid using web addresses as links to internal content.

Do not use:
For more about postgraduate study, see www.gla.ac.uk/postgraduate

Do use:
Find out more about postgraduate study

Do not use the word 'link' in the link description.

Do not use:
Link to academic paper

Do use:
Read the academic paper

Placing links

Avoid using too many links in the body of your text as these often distract readers and make the text harder to read.

If you have a lot of links, consider having a list of links at the end of your text, or in the quick links section on the right side of the page. 

Launch and land

Use the same text for a link (whether a link in the main navigation or in the body of a web page) as for the page heading of the link target. 

It is easy for users to become disorientated on the web and consistent naming from link to target helps to reinforce the user's location on a website.  A disparity in naming creates confusion and doubt.

Do not use:
Link = 'Equal opportunities statement'
Heading on target page = 'Equality and diversity statement'

Do use:
Link = 'Equal opportunities statement'
Heading on target page = 'Equal opportunities statement'

Language and Tone

Use the active voice

Writing in the active voice is clearer and and more engaging that writing in the passive voice. 

Do not use:
Spanish, French and German are offered to students by the University of Glasgow.

Do use:
We offer courses in Spanish, French and German.

Use pronouns and address the audience directly

Refer to the reader as 'you' and the university as 'we'.

This improves the clarity of the content and helps cut down the word count.

Do not use:
The student will take one core course and five optional courses.

Do use:
You will take one core course and five optional courses.

Use common language

Avoid acronyms and jargon as much as possible (except where globally understood, e.g. BBC).

This increases the readability of the content and also helps it become more visible in search engines.

Do not use:
The CMS will allow for the information architecture of the E&B web site to be greatly enhanced.

Do use:
The Content Management System (CMS) will allow Estates and Buildings to greatly improve the usability and navigation of their web site.

Ensure your content doesn't become outdated

When talking about a day or time, avoid using words such as 'today' or 'next week' which will be out of context on a webpage. Use the specific date instead. For example, 'on 1st August 2019'.

If a date attached to a piece of content is more than two years old, consider deleting the content as it will appear outdated on the website.

FAQs

Should I use Frequently Asked Questions?