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Writing for the Web

Get tips for creating effective web content.

Writing for the web is different from writing a report, email or putting together a PowerPoint presentation. You should expect to devote some time to make your content web-friendly and be flexible in altering it for different media.

Philosophy

Web readers want information right now, so they:

  • Speed through text at a few seconds per page
  • Scan pages for quick information
  • Are reluctant to scroll down

UC San Diego websites deliver information fast by:

  • Talking directly to the reader (second person)
  • Writing clear, concise, scannable pages
  • Placing key information at the top of the page
  • Linking to more detailed pages

Writing approach

Tone: Blink and TritonLink communicate in a friendly, conversational tone. We write directly to the reader, use contractions, and read your writing aloud to make sure it sounds like something you'd say.

Voice: Voice represents the "person" who is speaking to the reader. Step into the correct persona when you write for Blink and TritonLink:

  • Blink's voice is a knowledgeable colleague, a staff member who can clearly explain business processes.
  • TritonLink's voice is an advisor, a trusted representative of UCSD, someone who sits on the same side of the desk as the student to explain academic, financial, or other essential information.

Style: Style guarantees consistency in capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Is it "a.m." or "A.M."? "Mail Code" or "mailcode"? UC San Diego sites use a common style guide to keep their content consistent.

Tips for writing active, concise, and scannable web pages

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Review existing content on your subject and determine placement and navigation

  • Search existing content: Make sure what you're planning to write doesn't repeat existing content. (Link to it instead.)
  • Determine placement: Make sure your new page or set of pages has a logical home in the existing site structure.
  • Consider navigation: How will users navigate to your new content, and what other existing content should link to your new page(s)?

Write to your target audience

  • Visualize someone in your target audience.
  • Write to that person, using second person ("you" and "your"). Examples:
    • Find out how to apply to graduate school.
    • Sign and date each page of your application.
    • Provide your supervisor with a written letter of resignation, including the effective date of your resignation.
    • If you're the Human Resources contact for your department, follow these steps.

Identify your main message

Make sure that all content on the page supports the main message.

  • Answer this in 1 sentence: "What is the one thing I want to get across on this page?"
  • Put your main message at the top of your Web page.
  • Make the main message as actionable as possible. Example:
    • Avoid this: "All students must have health insurance to enroll."
    • Use this instead: "Find out how to get student health insurance, a requirement for enrollment."
  • If you have 2 main messages, create 2 pages. Each page can handle only 1 main message or topic.
  • Examples of main messages:
    • Avoid liability for your department by learning who is authorized to sign contracts and agreements.
    • You can prevent most pest infestations with these simple tips:

Write short, active sentences

  • Restrict sentences to 25 words or fewer.
    • Delete unnecessary words and phrases such as "in order to."
    • Simplify complicated words and phrases: "approval to spend" instead of "authorization for the expenditure of funds."
  • Use active voice. Passive voice obscures clarity, uses more words, and slows the reader down.
    • Choose verbs that show action: rank, report, discuss, identify, contact.
    • Have the subject do the action: "The committee creates policies," not "Policies are created by the committee."
    • If you find a form of the verb "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, been, being), try to rewrite the sentence using an active verb.
    • Exceptions: Passive voice is appropriate when:
      • The "doer" is unknown, e.g., "The announcement was posted Tuesday."
      • The "doer" is not important, e.g., "The supplies are on their way."
      • Tact is required, e.g., "The signature was omitted."
  • Choose nouns you can "see." Examples:
    • Take a class.
    • Sign up for a workshop.
    • But not: Become part of a unique instructional environment.

Write conversationally

Write the way you would speak to a person in your target audience:

  • Use contractions: can't, you'll, isn't, they're.
  • Use pronouns: you, he, they, it.
  • To make sure it's conversational, read your page aloud and listen for words or phrases you wouldn't use while talking.

Keep paragraphs short

Restrict paragraph length to:

  • 50 words
  • 4 to 5 lines
  • 3 sentences

Format the text for scannablity

Use:

  • Short, active summaries
  • Bullet lists
  • Bold or subheads to "chunk" information
  • Links to detail pages

Use meaningful title and headings

  • Use information-carrying words in titles, words that readers might search on to find your pages. Examples:
    • Gifts and Awards: Flowers
    • Final Exam Responsibilities
  • Separate chunks of information with subheads to help readers quickly see what's on the page.
  • Make subheads informative instead of cute or catchy.
    • Avoid this: "Yikes! It's a snake!"
    • Use this instead: "Avoid contact with snakes."
  • Avoid using questions. They don't give information, and they require you to repeat words, making the text longer. Example:
    • Avoid this:
      How often can I donate? Donors can give blood every 56 days.
    • Use this instead:
      Donors can give blood every 56 days.

Review and revise your first draft

  • Check your page against Red Flag Keywords (Word file).
  • Check the tone, voice, and style (see Writing approach, above).
  • Ask others to read and comment on your draft, including members of the target audience or Workplace Technology Services.

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