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Writing for the Web

Course Offerings: "Writing and Design for the Web" and Other Courses

If your responsibilities at Rutgers include regular communications projects, you should strongly consider signing up for the university’s Communicator Certificate Program. “Writing and Design for the Web” is a nontechnical course in the program that will help you focus on your website’s purpose and organize information to make your site user-friendly. Additional courses include “Proofreading and Editing Using the Rutgers Editorial Style Guide,” “Developing a Communications Plan,” and others.

Putting It All Together: The Web Script

Your web manuscript will need to convey the hierarchy and organization of your website or webpage. This exemplary web script [PDF] corresponds to this webpage. Be sure to clearly mark:

  • Page Title
  • Headlines, including hierarchy, e.g., Banner, Level 1, Level 2, etc.
  • Introductory Text
  • Body Text
  • Features: Sidebars, quotes, videos, photo galleries, etc.
  • Text that is linked; include URLs
  • Metatags
  • Keywords

 

Your Website and University Links

Rutgers webpages should appropriately represent and promote the entire university, as well as specific departments or programs. See the University Web Policy for information on elements that must appear on all official Rutgers sites. Where appropriate, incorporate links to universitywide information pages, search engines, and indexes. Use information generated by other units by linking to their pages.

Rutgers Messages for Your Project

Speaking on Behalf of Rutgers: These resources can help you be a more effective ambassador as you communicate with legislators, professional colleagues, prospective students and their parents, community groups, neighbors, and others interested in the university.

Tips to Get Your Reader’s Attention

Web users typically are visiting your site to do or get something. Always keep your users in mind, thinking about what they want and how you can provide it in a straightforward, hassle-free manner.

The Dos and Don’ts in this table will help you make it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they need.

  • Provide Easy-to-Scan Content

    Web readers don’t sit in front of their computer screens (or gaze into their mobile phones) and read webpages word-by-word. Instead, they scan pages for useful information. And if they don’t find it? They’ll go elsewhere.

    To serve your readers, keep their attention, and provide easily scannable content, use these techniques in your writing:

    • Break your information into “chunks” that can be easily accessed and comprehended.
    • Use heads and subheads to partition your content.
    • Use bulleted lists whenever possible.

    Example:

    Do:
    Find out how to

    • Post your resume
    • Search our jobs database
    • Sign up for Career Fairs
    Don’t:
    Read about how we can help you prepare for the rigors of the job search, with tips for posting your resume on our website, searching our extensive database of job offerings, and registering for upcoming fall semester Career Fairs.
  • Be Clear and Direct

    Lead with your main point, then elaborate; don’t save “the punch line” for the end.

    In general, be as direct as possible in your writing. When providing links, be clear about what visitors will find when clicking. A short blurb to describe a linked resource can help to tell readers whether that’s what they want.

    Example:

    Do:
    Apply here [link to application]
    Don’t:
    By completing the online application available on this site you can enroll in the program.
  • Use Second-Person Language

    Talk to the user. “You” is the most powerful word on the web, and a conversational tone is appropriate for many webpages. Don’t be afraid to write in second person.

    Example:

    Do:
    Get advice you need to write effective web copy that gets your program noticed.
    Don’t:
    Users should review our suggestions on writing for the web to optimize their organization’s outreach efforts.
  • Avoid Jargon

    Technical jargon is a turn-off unless appropriate to your audience.

    Example:

    Do:
    Rutgers researchers study patients who have suffered ministrokes.
    Don’t:
    Rutgers researchers are conducting studies on transient ischemic episodes in a control group of subjects.
  • Avoid Acronyms and Initialisms

    Try to stay away from acronyms and initialisms; your reader isn’t necessarily familiar with shorthand that you use.

    Example:

    Do:
    Contact the Office of Business and Adminstrative Services.
    Don’t:
    Contact BAS.
  • Write Clear, Direct Headlines

    The web is an attention-competitive environment, and headlines are a must. Headlines help readers to scan your webpages and find what they need. In general, write clear, direct headlines rather than catchy ones.

    Example:

    Do:
    Rutgers Philosophy Department Ranked No. 1
    Don’t:
    Plato, Aristotle, and Being No. 1
  • Use the Active Voice

    Use action words and write active sentences and headlines; the passive voice takes the punch out of your message. Use powerful action words in headlines, subheads, and bullet points.

    Example:

    Do:
    Make Rutgers Your University
    Don’t:
    High School Students Are Encouraged to Apply
  • Keep It Short: Guidelines

    Headings: 4–8 words
    Subheads: 1–5 words
    Sentences: 1–20 words
    Paragraphs: 1–7 sentences
    Documents: 300–500 words

  • Prioritize Your Content

    Key facts and important details should be at the beginning of your webpage text. Web users are impatient, easily frustrated, and always just a click away from leaving your website. The web is not a forum for highlighting mission statements, formal strategic plans, and lengthy biographies. If you choose to post content like this, place it deeper in the site and provide links to it. Users who are interested will find it and those who aren’t won’t be turned off by having to dig through it to find what they really want.

  • Provide Links

    The use of links (also known as hypertext) is a major difference between writing for the web and writing for print publications. If your content doesn’t have links, it’s not web text. Writing content based on a well-developed information architecture (site outline or flowchart) will help you avoid frustrating your readers with text that’s not really meant for the web.

Write Great Metadata for Every Page

Metadata (or metatags) is information about your webpage that includes keywords, a title, and a description and is written into the HTML code. Search engines use metadata to find and describe your pages.

Write Powerful and Concise Metatags

Metatag descriptions should state the essence of what is on the page in as few words as possible. Many search engines display the metatag title and/or the first 15 to 25 words of the metatag description in the search results. You should have title, keyword, and description metatags for every page in your site. Make titles very brief, specific, and precisely descriptive. Keywords are written into the HTML code and are invisible to the reader when written as metadata.

Example:

Metatag description for the Rutgers research overview page:

<meta name=“description“ content=”As New Jersey’s premier public research university, Rutgers creates new knowledge, fuels economic progress, and improves lives in our state and beyond.”/>

A web search for “Rutgers research” will yield: As New Jersey’s premier public research university, Rutgers creates new knowledge, fuels economic progress, and improves lives in our state and beyond.

Write Keywords from the User’s Viewpoint

Keywords describe the content of your page/site. Many search engines use these keywords to categorize your page. Keywords are written into the HTML code and are invisible to the reader when written as metadata. Search engines rank pages higher when the keywords are also used in the visible content on the page.

Example:

Keywords for the main Rutgers undergraduate education.
<meta name="keywords" content="Rutgers,The State University,undergraduate education,majors,courses"/>

Proofread, Fact Check, Check Links

Websites with spelling errors, inaccurate information, and dead links annoy readers.

Proofread!

Proofread your copy. Don’t rely on computer spell-checkers. Consider having a professional proofreader review your copy, or a colleague who has not previously seen the material. Spelling errors reflect poorly on your organization, especially in a university atmosphere. Proofread again after the programming phase. Things can look quite different online and errors can occasionally be introduced in the process.

Check and Recheck Your Facts and Links

Incorrect or out-of-date information is useless to your users and reflects poorly on you and your unit. Double-check phone numbers, statistics, dates, titles, addresses, and link URLs for accuracy before you post your content. Recheck on a regular basis to make sure the information is still valid. Check links using a link validator.

Rutgers Editorial Style Guide

Editorial guidelines have been developed for Rutgers in order to lend consistency to text presentation in university communications. The Rutgers Editorial Style Guide addresses topics specific to Rutgers that may not be adequately covered in the standard published style guides and summarizes some of the most frequently raised questions of style.