Writing for the web: Adapt your content for digital platforms

User expectations, fussy search engines, countless devices, oh my! These and other factors require a tailored approach to writing for the web.

Are people viewing your site on a mobile phone or a desktop monitor? Are they familiar with your group, or are they newcomers to your work? Are any of your visitors using an assistive device such as a screen reader or custom keyboard?

Since you can’t answer these questions and adjust your site for each visitor, it’s important to invest time into making your site easy to read and navigate for everyone who’s likely to visit.

These best practices will help you write effective and accessible web content:

  • Write using the words your audience uses, not the words your office or group uses internally (read about SEO below to learn how this also improves your rankings in Google and other search engines)
  • Break up long paragraphs; it’s common (and perfectly acceptable) for paragraphs on the web to be one sentence long
  • Use bullet points or numbered lists to present parallel types of information, but avoid creating long lists (like this one!); seven bullets maximum is a good rule of thumb
  • Use subheadings to divide content into scannable sections (see our tips for creating subheadings)
  • Find the right balance when separating content onto different pages – long pages can be overwhelming, but many separate pages can require unnecessary clicking or cause visitors to miss important information
  • Use accordions or anchor links (links within a page) to help visitors preview the information on longer pages
  • Don’t duplicate information from other pages or websites; instead, summarize and link to the original
  • Help readers out with links to organizations, findings or other information you reference (just be mindful of links to third-party sites, which may violate the university’s conflict of interest policy)
  • Make link text descriptive and informative; avoid creating links that say “click here” (see our tips for writing link text)
  • Avoid hiding your content in PDFs and other files; include the information directly on a webpage when possible
  • Amp up visual appeal with quality photos and graphics, especially images that inform, clarify or add an emotional dimension to your content (remember to caption and credit images!)
  • Treat similar kinds of information in the same way throughout your site
  • Proofreed! Ask your colleagues to profread! Proofread again!
  • Read and revise your site regularly; set an editorial schedule at launch, assign responsibilities, and add them to everyone’s work calendars as recurring events
  • Prioritize your users’ needs, even if it means extra work for you

Get your content in formation

The WashU Style Manual provides editing standards for university communications. 

Get highlights from the guide »