General Guidelines

Best Practices

To communicate effectively online, always strive to write as clearly and concisely as possible. Remember that website users only read 20-28% of copy on the page. Tips for creating copy that is easy to scan include:

  • Put the most important information “above the fold” of the page
  • Break up large “walls” of text into chunks of copy with multiple headlines
  • Avoid duplicate information on a page, even when you are saying the same thing in two different ways

Use plain language and active voice.

Use a less formal/more conversational tone for the web. Help users quickly digest the page’s content with the following approach:

  • Use a 10th grade reading level. Tools for checking readability include Microsoft Word’s built-in tool and a Readability Test Tool
  • Avoid jargon. If introducing internal language, provide context and/or define its meaning in the copy or via link

Get to the point, fast!

While there is certainly a place for flowery or expositional writing, the purpose of the website is primarily to inform. The more quickly this is achieved, the better the user’s experience. Follow these guidelines for length of content:

  • Sentence: no more than 15-20 words
  • Paragraph: 40-70 words; can be as little as two sentences
  • Page: 300-700 total word count
  • Headings: should not exceed 8-10 words
Audience-Centered Writing

Website content should always be relevant and appropriate for the intended audience. The website serves a wide and diverse community of internal and external audiences. While the website has multiple audiences, content does not have to, and should not, attempt to speak to each audience. When writing content, consider the primary users who will be reading that particular page. Be careful to avoid using internal jargon for audiences not familiar with it.

Keep the audience in mind by asking:

  • What information are people looking for on this page?
  • What questions do they have?
  • What problems can you help them solve?
  • Is the content appropriate for the audience’s reading level?
  • What page(s) might they visit next? Is the path clear?
Content Length Guidelines

The following are commonly accepted length guidelines:

  • Sentence: Should be no more than 15-20 words.
  • Paragraph: Can be as little as 2 sentences, but should be no more than five. Ideal length: 40-70 words.
  • Page: Should contain a word count of 300-700. Ideal maximum length: 500 words.
  • Headings: Should not exceed 8-10 words.

Exceptions: Pages where the user requires informational content.

  • For example, a curriculum overview with all required coursework for a graduate program. This might be organized in tabs or expandable content components, but it is necessary to help the user achieve their goals.
Readability & Plain Language

Making content readable is an important aspect of the user experience.

  • Use a 10th grade reading level as the gauge for readability.
  • Write in plain language. Readability is key.
  • If introducing unique language, provide context and if necessary, define.
  • Long sentences and advanced vocabulary slow readers down. Plain language communicates information more efficiently.

Tools to check readability:

Scannability & Headings

Scannability refers to helping users find what they are looking for by organizing content into manageable “chunks.”

Tips for making content scannable:

  • Use clear headings that help define the content and guide users through the page as they scroll.
  • Consider if you can split a “wall of text” into themes with multiple headings?
  • Put the most important information “above the fold” on a page.
  • When necessary to use long-form content, follow the inverted pyramid style, leading with key information.
  • Incorporate visual aids such as photos or videos to help communicate your message and engage the reader.
  • Use the new website components that are available to you.
    • Include an Accordion if you need to break up long text into a series of categories
    • Use a Tab component to break up content into sections.

Tips for writing effective headings:

  • Headings should be succinct, descriptive phrases in Title Case with no ending punctuation.
  • Use keywords at the beginning of headings versus at the end.
    • Example: If your keywords are “progressive education curriculum”, the preferred heading would be “Progressive Education Curriculum Overview” vs. “What You Need to Know About the Progressive Education Curriculum.”
  • Max of 8-10 words.
    • Example: “Types of Financial Aid”
  • Should make sense out of context.
    • Example: “Happening at the John Hopkins University” is preferred vs. simply “Events”