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Writing for the web

The four steps to great web content

“Web content” is a unique genre of writing, with its own set of style guidelines and best practices. Crafting effective web content — content that connects with your target audience and helps you accomplish your goals — starts with following these four steps.


Know your audience

A person tackling a textbook chapter approaches reading differently than a person who’s scrolling through web content on a screen.

Web users:

  • Are highly task-focused.

  • Skim and scan, looking for the information they need.

  • Want to grab and go. 

  • Spend less than a minute looking at a page.

Once you have these general traits in mind, you can get more specific. Who will be reading your content? Business students? Alumni? History professors?

Describe your target audience:

  • Use this Audience worksheet to gather information about your target audience

  • Include research by:

    • Consulting your own records

    • Checking with UFV Institutional Research

    • Requesting  web analytics from the web team

    • Asking your audience directly via interviews or surveys

Create a user persona:

Always remember there are real people on the other side of the screen. A tool that helps web writers to remember this is the user persona, a fictional character who represents your target audience. 

You can use this  user persona template to create your own user persona.


Define your user’s goals

What do your web users want? To apply to UFV? Sign up for a course? Book a room online?

Your research should help you create a list of your user’s top questions, goals, and/or tasks related to your web content.



Create an outline

Now develop your content outline, keeping in mind what matters most to your user. Your content outline should take the form of useful headings, and perhaps sub-headings.

Three approaches to writing headings:

  • Question headings — if your users come with questions (Who is eligible for this award? How do I apply?)

  • Statement headings — if you want to convey key messages (Graduates maybook their photo sessions starting February 1, 2021)

  • Action headings — if you want to give instructions (Upload your resume, Write a cover letter)

Start with what’s most important

Very few users will read your content word for word, from beginning to end. Structure your page content to deliver what’s essential first, and include optional details at the bottom of the page.

UFV style guidelines for headings:

  • Do not bold your headings.

  • Left align your headings.

  • Do not use all capitals in your headings. Review the UFV writing style guidelines for more information on capitalization.


Fill in your outline with web-friendly content

As you start to write sentences and paragraphs to go under each heading, follow these best practices:

Be concise

Get to the point! The less content you put on a page, the more likely it is that a user will pay attention to it. Why? Because there is less to compete for your visitor's attention. Bonus: the less content on a site, the less you have to maintain, fix, or update in future.‌


Use plain language

Keep your writing simple, direct, and conversational. This doesn’t dumb down your content; it actually makes you come across as more credible and transparent.

Use “you”

Address your audience directly, speaking to them and not about them. Instead of  “All applicants should apply by October 1,” Write, “Apply by October 1.”

Use the active voice

In the active voice, the subject performs the action: “The students learned how to make delicious crème brulée from scratch.”

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action: “The students were taught how to make  delicious crème brulée from scratch.”

Your writing will be more concise and lively if you stick to the active voice.

Choose short and simple words

Use everyday words. Instead of ‘approximately,’ write ‘about.’ Replace ‘assist’ with ‘help,’ and ‘attempt’ with try, and so on. Aim to write so that an English-language learner will be able to understand.

Avoid jargon.

If you’re a UFV staff member, you “speak UFV.” It’s easy to forget that not everyone in your audience knows the difference between a major and a minor, or a degree and a diploma.

Try to stay away from insider language in your web content, and if you must include a term, take a moment to define it for your users.


Make it scannable

A wall of words will intimidate most web users. Instead, break up walls of words into easy-to-skim chunks by using:

  • Headings
  • One idea per paragraph
  • Short sentences and paragraphs
  • Bulleted lists
  • White space

Write meaningful links

When you include a link for users, don’t use “click here,” or a simple “learn more.” Be descriptive and unique, so your users know exactly what will happen when they click the link. Keep the link long enough that it’s easy to tap on a mobile screen.

You’ll find more info about writing effective links on the Making your content accessible page and on the Optimizing for search engines page

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