- Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works
- So You Think You Can Write?: The Definitive Guide to Successful Online Writing
- Creating Web Content: The “Share Bait” mindset for writing great content
- Writing for the Web: Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words, Pictures, and Sound
- Writing for the Web
- Reading Content on Mobile Devices
- How Chunking Helps Content Processing
- The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice
- Legibility, Readability, and Comprehension: Making Users Read Your Words
- The Impact of Tone of Voice on Users' Brand Perception
- (Even More!) Web Content Writing Tips
Your audience: Who are web readers?
How do web readers “read?” More often than not, they don’t! Web readers are browsers and scanners. They are looking for answers to specific questions.
When writing content, it’s important to remember that web readers:
- Have specific questions
- Might be distracted when scanning your website
- Are a diverse population
- Want information quickly
Transitioning from academic writing to web writing can be challenging, and we're here to help! Following are some tips you can use to help make sure users are getting the most from your online content.
Voice and Tone
The language you use when writing your content has a major impact on how people perceive your website and the information you have to offer. As a whole, Case Western Reserve uses language that showcases our brand as an active, engaging, confident, forward-thinking institution.
Your words should convey purposeful and thoughtful messages with strong nouns and dynamic verbs, targeted to intellectual audiences.
Your department or program might have a slightly different style. But either way, you’re reflecting what you—and the university—represent.
Voice vs. Tone: What is the difference?
Voice: The distinct personality or style that reflects the entire institution.
Tone: How your office communicates CWRU’s voice (varies with the medium).
Finding your voice and tone
How do you want users to feel when they engage with your site?
Is this voice and tone successful in conveying that feeling? Review content on your site and identify what is—and isn’t—working when it comes to reflecting your identity.
Work with your team on a voice and tone exercise:
- Who are you? Select five to six adjectives that explain who you are—and who you are not.
- What do you want to be? Select three to four more adjectives that describe who you aspire to be—but make it attainable.
- What’s your identity? Craft an identity statement to which you can refer when creating new content or making decisions.
Ensure that your particular voice and tone is consistent throughout your content. Ask yourself what you can do to make the entire site—copy, images, videos, design—more reflective of your voice and tone.
Crafting your tone
It's important to maintain a consistent tone, so consider the point of view, order of pronouns, and overall readability and reading level of your content as you write it.
First and second person vs. third person
We recommend using first and second person in most web writing to make it more informal and personable, but no matter the decision, remember to strive for consistency.
Think of how you want to position the reader’s importance.
- You want to do this, which is why we do that. (reader-first)
- We do this, in case you want that. (university-first)
- All web content at Case Western Reserve should be written for a 12th-grade reading level (or, ideally, below). You can test this using read-able.com.
- Remember: Your audience may include your peers, but it also could be high school students, international students or their parents/families, whose reading levels you don’t know. Make it easy for everyone to understand.
- Wherever possible, use active as opposed to passive voice
- Limit use of acronyms: They can be confusing or exclusionary to people visiting your site for the first time!
Prioritizing your content
Keep your audience in mind as you structure your website. Make sure you have a clear idea of the purpose and intended audience of your page, and stay focused on that idea as you write and edit your content. What information does your audience need?
Think of the reader when you organize your content. It’s important to set up your information based on how people will look for it, rather than the structure of your department.
When considering the structure of your content, ask yourself:
- Is this clear?
- Is this necessary?
- Would they look here for the information I’m giving them?
- Could I make it easier to find this information?
Avoid the temptation to be the ultimate source of information for everything. Keep your content unique and specific.
Your website is meant to be a living, changing resource—not an archive of all information. We recommend storing no more than three years of prior information, such as newsletters and events, so as to not confuse readers or make them think your website is dated. You still can archive this information and store elsewhere, such as Google Drive or Box.
If the information you’re providing exists somewhere else on the internet, don’t duplicate their efforts by copying and pasting. This will make you compete with other pages in search engines—and also means you need to maintain the content.
Be clear about where you’re sending readers.
If you have links in your text, ensure they are clearly labeled. Readers are less likely to use your links, no matter how helpful, if they don’t know where they will lead.
Avoid using the phrase “click here” or an unspecific “learn more” when placing links.
A good rule of thumb: Write the sentence as you normally would, and place the link anchor on the words that best describe the content to which you are linking. To allow for the best link usability on mobile devices (think: large fingers and small screens), link to multiple words rather than just one.
Write content for people, not search engines. But consider how search engines think…
Search engines such as Google or Bing scan your website and put the text of your page into a database. When someone conducts a search, it goes through that database to find a website that best matches the search criteria.
To ensure search engines can properly read and serve up your content:
- Include keywords your audience is likely to search for.
- Write useful, clear, well-organized content.
- Do not duplicate content, including page titles. If you need to reference content from another site, use in-text links.
Using Complex Material
That’s OK! Sometimes the nature of your topic means your content will be longer, more detailed and more complicated.
Your audience will read long copy on the web if it’s structured properly. In addition to paying close attention to tone and readability, some tips for delivering complex content to your audience include:
- Breaking it up
- Guiding your reader with subheads
- Staying focused
Break up complex material
Visually breaking up long text becomes more important with complex content. To keep the attention span of your readers, it’s best to avoid huge, impenetrable-looking paragraphs.
To break up your material:
- Use whitespace to help the page breathe.
- Keep paragraphs under three sentences, and try to keep your sentences under 20 words.
- Use bullet lists to call out takeaways.
Guide readers with subheads
Luckily, the worries about whether or not web readers will scroll is a thing of the past. Readers will continue to scroll and read as long as they trust they are getting good information.
A good way to quickly let readers know you have what they're looking for is to structure your content with frequent, informative subheadings.
Headings shouldn’t be used for visual appeal; instead, they should give hierarchical ranking to the content on your page. Think of headings as a book structure.
- h1 is for a page title (book cover)
- h2 is for major content sections (part one, part two, epilogue, etc.)
- h3 is for content that falls under an h2 (book chapters)
- h4 is for content that falls under an h3 (different authors, sections, within a book chapter)
You can use as many subheads as you need, as long as you keep them in order.