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Writing for the Web

Writing content that is accessible, optimized for search, and otherwise informative and easy to read.

Top Ten Tips

Writing for the web can seem like a mystifying task. When in doubt, refer to these basic strategies, and you'll be well on your way to creating compelling, accessible content.

  1. Keep the important info on top
    People don't read the web, they scan. Make sure your most essential information is near the top of the page.
  2. Be clear and concise
    To help users scan, write short paragraphs in plain language at a 7th-9th grade level. The more complex your writing is, the longer it takes people to find the information they need. Use the Hemingway App to identify things that are difficult to read, or use the WebFX Readability test to check a URL. 
  3. Use conversational tone
    It's ok to be informal! Using "we" and "you" is totally appropriate and can make your writing more friendly.
  4. Use Heading 2 and Heading 3
    Break long pages into scannable chunks by using headlines to section your content. Always start with Heading 2 (Heading 1 is reserved for the page title), and use Heading 3 and even Heading 4 as needed. This helps your search ranking too! Don't break their order by skipping a Heading 3 and going straight to a Heading 4.
  5. Use bulleted lists
    Short bulleted phrases are easier to read than the same information separated by commas in a paragraph. Lists of links are also easier to scan for users looking for where to go next. Make sure you use the bullet button in your editor so that they're formatted correctly!
  6. Write descriptive hyperlinks
    Don't use "click here" or "more info". Links should indicate what they do or where they go. Make sure to include the file extension in the hyperlink for downloads, i.e. (pdf). Use at least two words if possible - short, single words can be hard to click on a small device.
  7. Keep your content left-aligned
    Centering your text can disrupt our natural tendency to read left to right. Users tend to scan down the left side of the page.
  8. Write alt text for all images
    Describe the meaning of the image simply and in a way that could serve as a substitute for the image. Avoid using images with text - when necessary, make sure the alt text includes the text, or you provide a caption or link to a full description.
  9. Use the W&M editorial guidelines
    Write W&M as "William & Mary" or the "university". "W&M" can be used as a secondary reference. Don't use "College of William & Mary" or "the College." Use the university's editorial guidelines when in doubt about how to refer to something. For W&M Libraries, you can use "the Libraries" as a secondary reference. Only use Swem when you are writing about the building. Library services generally belong to the organization, W&M Libraries, and not the building.
  10. Spell out abbreviations and define jargon
    Avoid jargon as much as possible. If you need to use an abbreviation, write out the full name with the abbreviation in parentheses. You can use the abbreviation freely afterwards. Example: Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL)