Members of the Digital Team are digital content creation professionals. We can advise, edit and produce content for University websites.
Contact us to discuss.
Writing and style
- Webpages need to be findable (searchable and navigable), readable and understandable
- When writing digital content, take into account target audiences' needs and the way they use the medium
- Web communication is very different to print. Content must be specifically written for use digitally
- People are less tolerant of lots of text on the web. Content needs to engage users immediately and use the words they are looking for
- Website users skim and scan text on the web. They’ll scan a page picking out key words, sentences, headings, links and paragraphs of interest, and skim over text that doesn’t interest them. They don’t read word-for-word until they find information relevant to the task they're aiming to fulfil with their visit to your site.
Effective website content is:
- necessary and helpful: make sure your web content serves a clear and useful purpose, know who it is for and what you want to achieve with it
- audience-appropriate: focus on the user and their needs and answer people’s questions to satisfy their need for information quickly and easily; use their language and the words they will be looking for and will understand; and try to see things from their point of view
- concise: you will only need 50% of the equivalent content you might write for printed publications; only write as much text as is really necessary, keep paragraphs short, stay focused and relevant and break content up so it is digestible
- simple and direct: stick to the point, providing only what’s relevant; keep it free from technical language and internal jargon, and make sure it can be understood by all your targeted users
- consistent: use consistent vocabulary, a consistent tone and style and follow house style rules
- error-free: people need to have confidence in your information, but mistakes in spelling, typing and grammar can undermine this, so do proofread your text before approving it for publication on the website - T4 also has a spellchecker to help with this task
- appropriate in style and tone of voice: it should be a conversation between you and the reader, and it should be credible
- written to meet its purpose: establish a clear objective for each page’s content and ensure your text meets this
- organised using appropriate headings: make headings short and direct, and use subheadings with a logical heading structure
- written to capture interest: get to the point straightaway by putting your key messages at the top of the page with your key words and phrases in the first two paragraphs
- able to back up with evidence any claims it makes: provide evidence to demonstrate the truth of what you claim, rather than just making bold statements
- uses words that website users are looking for: so search engine robots will index them and your target users will find them
University of Exeter style guide
General writing style guidelines; also see A-Z of house style.
The Plain English Campaign describes plain English as ‘a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.’
Plain English conveys your meaning easily and quickly by using clear, punchy sentences addressed directly to the reader. It does not change your meaning or make complex thoughts simplistic – but it does make them more comprehensible and more persuasive.
Most experts would agree that clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. This does not mean making every sentence the same length, but you should vary your style by mixing short sentences with longer ones, following the basic principle of sticking to one main idea in a sentence, plus perhaps one other related point.
Call the reader ‘you’, and call the University/College/Department ‘we’. Referring to the reader impersonally (‘applicants’, ‘students’) is off-putting for them.
- Use active verbs as much as possible – ‘we will do’ rather than ‘it will be done’
- Passive language sounds impersonal and bureaucratic whereas active verbs tend to engage the reader more
- Always try to emphasise the positive side of things - ‘If you don’t send your application form, we won’t make you an offer.’ (Negative) ‘Please send your application form so we can make you an offer as soon as possible.’ (Positive)
Lists are excellent for splitting information up and they make information easier to absorb. With a list that is part of a continuous sentence, put semicolons (;) after each point and start each with a lower-case letter (unless list items are module titles for example).
- Stop and think before you start writing. Make a note of the points you want to make in a logical order
- Prefer short words. Long words will not impress your audience or help your writing style
- Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalistic words, and explain any technical terms you have to use
- Keep your sentence length down to an average of 15 to 20 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a sentence
- Use active verbs as much as possible. Say 'we will do it' rather than 'it will be done by us'
- Be concise
- Imagine you are talking to your reader. Write sincerely, personally, in a style that is suitable and with the right tone of voice
- Always check that your writing is clear, helpful, human and polite
- Adapted from the website of the Plain English Campaign.