Writing for the Web

Users want to find what they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible. Web-oriented writing and editing are essential for optimal content delivery.

Key Concepts

  • Omit non-essential words. Users don't read -- they scan.
  • Use "inverted pyramid" writing style: start with the point, then support it, using links for more in-depth details.
  • One idea per paragraph.
  • Keep the most important elements "above the fold," that is, visible upon initial page view without scrolling.
  • Categorize according to users' needs, not by departmental organization or hierarchy.
  • When creating a link, highlight only the one-to-three most important words, NOT "click here."

Do

  • Facilitate scanning with subheads, bullet points, lists, and captions.
  • Provide links to related and additional detail.
  • Use an active voice: "The company published the book."
  • Use lists or tables when possible.

Don't

  • Expect your visitors to read everything.
  • Put everything on one page.
  • Use a passive voice: "The book was published by the company."
  • List items in a paragraph to save room.

Consistency of Style

The only web constant is change. Stylistic debates continue ("Is it E-mail, e-mail, or email?"). Style manuals will help, but the most important style and usage point, one that cannot be emphasized enough, is consistency. You must adhere to the style you choose.

A to Z Style Guide

Northwestern University University Relations' Publications Group has produced an A to Z style guide that addresses many stylistic issues you are likely to encounter in Northwestern University-related communications. Standard University terminology is found here. If you have any questions regarding reference to a specific University entity, confirm information directly with that entity, in the University's printed faculty/staff/student directory, or through the University Relations Publications Group.

Copyright Issues

Follow all applicable copyright laws.  See content policy for additional information.