Writing for the Web

Acadia University’s website is the main way we reach our audiences, including prospective students, current students, alumni, and the public at large. While each department, program, and unit has its own character and unique place within the institution, we should try to communicate in a similar manner.

We’ve included a few tips on writing for the web below. We highly encourage you to read the Communications Office's brief Web Writing Guide. There is also an Editorial Style Guide to inform your choices for abbreviations, building names, and academic terms.

Web Writing Differences

Whether you're writing in print or for the web, the principles of good writing remain the same: know your audience, organize your thoughts effectively, and convey your ideas clearly and concisely. However, we do need to place extra emphasis on several areas:

  • Make a good first impression. Help users find what they're looking for, and remember that prospective students, donors, sponsors, etc. have other choices if they are dissatisfied with their experience. Remember that some of your content (such as the main pages of your departmental website) may be read by a variety of audiences with different interests, and not necessarily those who are experts in your subject matter area.
  • Keep in mind that people tend to skim-read websites, especially if they are browsing on a phone. Do not expect to have their undivided attention. Clearly label headings, segment your content, and make sure that action items are not buried in a glut of text. Consider your 'elevator pitch' and the most common information or tasks your users will be interested in.
  • Try to write in Acadia's institutional voice, which is friendly and approachable, but credible. As an institution, we often speak in the second person ("our"). 
  • Earn dividends for your good writing. Using appropriate keywords, headers, and page descriptions will serve your users well and help boost your site in search rankings.

Issues to Avoid

  • Try to avoid academic jargon or highly technical writing where it is not necessary. Content aimed at prospective students or the general public in particular should be written in a clear and conversational voice.
  • Steer clear of creating run-on paragraphs and sentences. Consider using bullet points, subheadings, or "accordion" elements to break up pages or hide details that aren't necessary at first glance.
  • Express benefits instead of bragging. While we want to emphasize what makes our programs and our campus special, try to write in a way that frames these as positives for the student, not as our institution being self-congratulatory or arrogant. 
  • Use a positive tone when making requests or stating requirements. Avoid berating students with "YOU MUST!" language or littering a page with "It is required" statements in distracting, vibrant colours or large fonts. Try to organize information or procedures in a clear, step-by-step format. Write in a friendly way that explains that we need the student to complete the task so we can serve them. Remember that text formatting, such as bold or italics, is more effective when used sparingly. 

Best Practices

  • Avoid typing links out in their entirety or using "click here for more info" phrases. Instead, explain what the link offers, and identify what the link is, if it is not a webpage. Ex. "Please submit an application form (PDF) to complete your internship application."
  • Use brief and direct headlines that can be readily understood and help your user skim the page. 
  • Remember that our audiences do not necessarily use the same keywords or academic vocabulary that we do. Keep the layperson in mind, particularly when writing for homepages or for sites aimed at the general public. What terms are our audiences searching for? 
  • After completing your work in the Article Manager, edit your page in Site Structure to adjust its Meta Description. While search engines no longer use Meta Keywords, Meta Descriptions help improve search rankings, and perhaps more importantly, they show up as the default preview text for your website in Google results, when you paste a link into a social media post like Facebook, etc. Keep your description short (100-300 characters) and clear.


Article ID: 507
Thu 11/16/17 1:46 PM
Tue 4/28/20 9:44 AM