Having a website is great for your department, but it is only as useful as the information you put on it—and the way it’s presented. While you may have a lot of information to convey to your audience, if they cannot locate it on your webpage, it does them no good.
Writing for the web is different than writing for other publications, and it’s important to remember that when you begin crafting copy for your webpage.
Below are a few quick rules that can help you write better copy for the web. Use these as a starting point, or as a filter through which you run existing information you have available on your webpage.
Know your audience and what they are looking for
You know your reader better than anyone; and if you don’t, that’s step one. Ask yourself who is looking at your page and why. Identifying those details will help you pair down the information you have to what the reader actually needs to know. And this remains valid advice even after your webpage is up and running. Keep referring to your audience and their needs as you review and revise your copy over time. An audience’s needs change over time. If the information you currently have on your website is no longer relevant, delete it, or move it further down the page in favor of fresher content.
Value what’s at the top
With the web being viewed on such a wide variety of devices and screen sizes, it’s increasingly more difficult to determine where “the fold”* is. Data shows that scrolling has become second nature to many readers. However, the top section of your page still serves an important purpose. It’s the first thing a viewer will see, and if you’re not mindful, possibly the only thing.
Begin your content with the most valuable information at the top. Include the things that will entice your reader to continue scrolling down the page. If they don’t find your content useful from the start, readers will most likely abandon the page and seek information elsewhere.
*This term refers back to newspapers, where the story “above the fold” is deemed the most important because it has prime real estate.
Use headings and subheadings
If you do have a lot of information to include on your webpage, use headings and subheadings to separate sections. Readers are likely going to scan your page for the information that’s most relevant to them. Headings and subheadings make this easier by calling out important topics and grouping relevant information together. The caveat to this rule is that too many headings can defeat the purpose. If everything is under a subheading, it becomes just as difficult to scan. Pick and choose your headings wisely.
Keep it short and sweet
When in doubt, less is more with writing for the web. Reader’s attention spans are short, and that’s never more true than when they’re on the internet. If your paragraph is 100 words, try writing it in 50 words. The quicker you can convey information, the more likely it is that your audience will actually read it. Bullet points, lists and summaries are your friends. Of course there are times when you can’t cut it down. In those cases, write a brief overview and link out to another page for more information.
Find your voice
Nothing is worse than reading a wordy, boring paragraph online. You want to capture and keep your audience’s attention on your website. Remember, web writing can be fun, so don’t be afraid to experiment. That being said, you don’t want to be all over the place with your style and tone. It’s important that all of the information on your website sound like it’s coming from the same place—and most importantly—that it sound like it’s coming from a real person. Write the way you speak. Be approachable. It increases the likelihood your audience keeps reading.
Use human language
Every industry has their jargon, and higher education is no different. When writing for your website, keep in mind that readers may not be familiar with all of the terminology and acronyms we use on a day-to-day basis. Reread your copy with the mindset of a prospective student or parent. This will ensure you’re speaking the same language as your audience.
This is the most important rule. None of the others matter if you’re not proofreading what you’re writing. While being fun and approachable on your website is valuable, grammar and spelling are still important. Read everything you write at least twice before publishing it. It can also be valuable to have someone else read your copy before you publish it. Our brains have a tendency to skip right over mistakes we’ve made when rereading. A fresh set of eyes are more likely to catch errors.
The content of this blog entry was accurate at the time of publication. You can find the most current information about content writing and other Cascade-related topics in our Cascade wiki documentation.
- A better website for our students: recommendations based on a student survey
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- Friday, March 6 @ 10:30 a.m.