Web Writing Guidelines
This set of guidelines helps us write clear and consistent content across the UNMC website. Please use it as a reference when you’re writing or revising web copy.
Writing Goals and Principles
With every piece of content we place on our website, our goal is to:
- Guide. Write copy and organize pages to help people find information and complete tasks easily. Communicate in a helpful and friendly way.
- Educate. As UNMC writers, we are the experts on our university. We know a lot about UNMC, our visitors may or may not.
- Respect. Respect readers’ time and attention. Get to the point quickly. Define complex terms and acronyms, but avoid patronizing readers.
At UNMC, our web copywriting is:
- Clear. Choose plain language over technical jargon. Choose simple sentences over complex ones. We want our readers to understand our content.
- Useful. Each page on our site should have a clear audience and purpose.
- Professional. Every page on our site represents our university and reinforces our brand.
- Human. Our writing is context-aware. Our website serves a number of audiences, including prospective students, research partners and patients. Our tone can flex based on the context and audience.
Effective web writing has a clear purpose and audience. Effective pages are well structured and actionable.
Who is the audience for this page? You may choose different words or prioritize different information depending on whether you are writing for:
- Prospective students who are learning about UNMC for the first time
- Researchers well-versed in a particular subject area
- Staff members who use UNMC’s website every day
If you are writing for more than one audience, review your page once with each 34 audience in mind. When in doubt about language, tone or phasing, prioritize the audience that knows the least about UNMC.
Why is this page on our website? What is it trying to accomplish? Prioritizing the goals for a page will help you decide how to organize information. If a page does not have a clear purpose, it probably does not need to be on the website. That purpose might be:
- Persuade a prospective student to apply to a particular academic program
- Demonstrate UNMC’s success and impact to our federal partners
- Help a current student use a particular resource
Structure and Next Steps
If you have an audience and goals, you have what you need to organize your page and make it actionable. Put the most important information at the top of the page, followed by supporting details. Include a clear call to action or a logical next step. Depending on your audience, a call to action might be:
- Attend an information session
- Visit us
- Make an appointment
- Contact us
Voice, Tone and Style
Below, you’ll find tips on crafting clear, readable copy for the web. For details on our brand personality and tone examples, along with our word usage guide, see Brand Wise. Unless addressed by UNMC-specific style guidelines, UNMC follows the Associated Press Stylebook.
Style Best Practices
- Use active voice. Avoid passive voice.
- Use direct address. Speak directly to the audience with the second person, “you.”
- When referring to yourself or UNMC, use “we” or “us.”
- Define unfamiliar words.
- Spell out acronyms on first use. Do not include the acronym in parenthesis. Use acronyms sparingly, except for UNMC. Use general terms instead, such as “the department” or “the program.”
- Choose plain English over jargon.
- Keep sentences simple.
- Keep paragraphs short. Aim for two to four sentences per paragraph. Paragraphs should focus on one idea.
- Cut out any unnecessary words and phrases.
Writing for Search Engine Optimization
The best way to write for SEO is simply to write well. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Organize your page around one topic.
- Use the words and phrases your audience uses.
- Use keywords words strategically. Avoid keyword stuffing (repeating words and phrases over and over again because you think a search engine would like them).
- Use descriptive headings and subheadings.
- Write a meta description for each page.
This is the text that appears under a page title on a search engine results page. It helps visitors decide whether or not they should click on a link to visit a page. A few tips for writing a good meta description:
- Keep meta descriptions to 160 characters or fewer.
- A one-sentence description is best.
- Each page should have a unique description.
- Do not use quotation marks. This causes Google to truncate your description.
Writing for Accessibility
According to the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, the leading international group for web standards, web accessibility, “means that people with all levels of ability can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.” To create a quality experience for all people, you should:
- Write descriptive links. “Click here” is not useful, but “Learn more about applying” is.
- Use heading tags (H1-H6) in hierarchical order. Using headings out of order creates confusion for people who are using screen readers.
- Offer closed captioning or transcripts for video content.
- Write alt text for any images on your page.
Alt text is a text explanation of an image for site visitors who cannot see the image. To write good alt text:
- Describe the image as specifically as possible.
- Keep it (relatively) short. The most popular screen readers cut off alt text around 125 characters.
- Don’t include “image of,” or “picture of,” in the alt text, it’s unnecessary.
Tools and Resources
- Grammarly: A convenient web-based tool to check spelling and grammar. Contact the library for an account.
- Hemingway App: A free web-based tool to check readability. Most web copy should be between and 8th and 10th-grade reading levels.
- Conscious Style Guide: A collection of inclusive writing guides, including guidelines on writing about ability and disability; ethnicity, race and nationality; gender, sex and sexuality and more.
- Adobe PDF Accessibility Overview: A guide to PDF accessibility generally, as well as an overview of accessibility features in Adobe Acrobat and Abobe Reader.
- The PDF Accessibility Guide: A conversational, yet comprehensive guide to PDF accessibility.
- mStoner’s Writing for the Web Workshop: This recorded webinar offers a high-level introduction to web content strategy, best practices, SEO and accessibility.
- Writing for the Web Workshop Slides: A quick reference to the material covered in the recording above.