Create User-Friendly Web Content

Writing for the web is different than writing for other mediums. It’s not like writing for print, and it’s not a place to showcase how clever or smart you are. It’s also not a place for academic jargon or other languages that excludes many readers.

Writing for the web demands brevity, simplicity and accessibility. It’s a unique skill that requires training, even for a communications expert.

Help Your Users

Users SCAN. They DON’T READ!

People read differently online than they do when they read print materials, and reading long paragraphs on a screen is time-consuming and fatiguing.

*Scanning on the web is dictated by the:

  • Users’ motivation
  • Goals they are trying to achieve
  • The layout of the page and formatting of text
  • Page content

It’s hard to control people’s motivation or their goals, but you can optimize content and presentation so that users can find what they need quickly.

Do the work for your users instead of forcing them to do it.

*Tips to help your users:

  • Include the most important points in the first two paragraphs on the page.
  • Use headings and subheadings.
  • Start headings and subheadings with the words carrying the most information.
  • Visually group small amounts of related content.
  • Bold important words and phrases.
  • Take advantage of the different link formatting (links, buttons, etc.), and ensure links include information-bearing words (instead of generic “go”, “click here” or “more”).
  • Use bullets and numbers to call out items in a list or process.
  • Cut unnecessary content.

*From Nielsen Norman Group

Writing Strategically

Never forget that the person visiting your website only wants to know, “What’s in it for me?”

As you worked through the website redesign and development process, you identified your primary audience. For many of you, that audience is prospective students. Remember that they are always the “me” on your website.

Don’t try to write for prospective students … and your dean and your faculty and your staff and your current students and your donors. You’ll just end up diluting your important messages. And that makes the message less meaningful for everyone.

Always go back to your primary audience. Write the messages they need to hear.

Prospective students don’t care that some man they don’t know named Bob just donated $10 million to your college. Let an internal email, your donor publications, and/or Around the College praise Bob for his amazing donation.

If your dean or director says you have to announce those facts, find a way to contextualize them so that they’re relevant to your students.

Let prospective students know that Bob’s donation will provide 10 full scholarships that they can apply for to help them pay for college.

Condense Your Content

Use Jon Ziomek’s 1-2-3-4-5 rule:

  • 1 main thought, expressed in
  • 2 to 3 short sentences, taking up no more than
  • 4 to 5 lines on the page

What happens at six lines? Your paragraph becomes more than an inch long. And an inch of type is too thick for most readers. Especially when you’re writing for mobile.

Write for Different Audiences

In his 30-3-30-3 rule, Clay Schoenfeld suggests that you present each webpage as if your audience will give you one of the following:

  • 30 seconds. With a 30-second attention span, these folks are lookers. They’ll learn whatever they can through an image and a bold headline.
  • 3 minutes. They’re not reading the text. Instead, they’re flipping, skimming, and scanning for key ideas. To reach them, you need to lift your ideas off the screen with a display copy.
  • 30 minutes. These folks are readers, and don’t we wish there were more of them!
  • 3 hours. These folks are researchers. They dive deep for data. Give them bottomless wells of information — libraries and archives of white papers, detailed product specs, PowerPoint decks, full texts of speeches and presentations, and so forth.

For the web, you need to write shorter, making each webpage as tight as possible. But you also need to deliver additional, longer pieces for your deep divers.

“Open with kernels for the 30-second reader,” write Daniel Cirucci and Mark Tarasiewicz. “Break to bits for the three-minute reader. Branch to detail for the 30-minute reader. Link to verbal and visual feasts for the three-hour junkie.”

30 Seconds: Should I consider OTC?

Think of the 30-second readers as those who just click on your site to quickly find out the most basic information. They will only be looking at your homepage (or a program landing page) and just noticing the one or two things that stand out the most on that page before they leave.

3 Minutes: Do you have what I want and does it look interesting?

Your 3-minute readers are looking to see if you have a program they might be interested in pursuing, if you offer any scholarships, when is the application deadline, etc. Just the basics. They will be looking at your homepage (or program page) and the top-level pages in your navigation, scanning just the section headers and the images.

30 Minutes: I’m narrowing my choices and going to apply.

The 30-minute reader is someone who knows you have the program they want and they are looking into your admissions requirements, curriculum, faculty members, etc., as they decide if they want to apply and prepare to apply. They will be looking three or four clicks into your website and will scan the section headers and read the sections that are relevant to the information they are looking for.

3 Hours: I’m an administrator or faculty member.

A 3-hour reader is likely an employee who is looking for in-depth information and details about absolutely everything—the details about the who, what, when, where, why, and how. These readers are not fazed by how many clicks it takes to get to information because they are committed to finding out as much as possible.

Content Evaluation Questions

Whether you’re reviewing current pages or creating new ones, these questions will help you evaluate your content.


  • What is the purpose of the page?
  • Who is the page’s primary intended audience?
  • What are the 1-2 things you want a user to do or learn after reading this page?


  • Is the information valuable to the intended audience?
  • Does the page enable you to do something useful?
  • Does the page offer information not found elsewhere?
  • Is the information accurate and up-to-date?


  • What topics are covered?
  • Is your content organized by related information or tasks and not by your departmental structure?
  • Will users think all of the content on the page is related to the task they want to perform or the information they need?
  • Does the page only provide information related to a specific topic or task (don’t make them skim the whole book when they only want what’s in one chapter)?
  • If the content on your page is longer than 3-4 scrolls, can you divide the information into sub-topics with their own pages?


  • Can you see what information is on the page at a glance?
  • Can you easily find links, keywords, and bullet points while skimming the page?
  • Do you use headers to break up text into easily identifiable sections?
  • Does the page title describe that page and include keywords or phrases?


  • Is the text well-written (short, easy to understand, conversational)?
  • Is the text clear and as concise as possible?
  • Are you using your audience’s language and not your own?
  • Are you avoiding marketing “fluff,” jargon and undefined acronyms?


  • Has the content been through an editing process (at least 2-3 people should review all content)?
  • Is the text grammatically correct?
  • Is the text free from spelling errors?
  • Are the links up-to-date and working?


  • What impression does the design give (chaotic, focused, cluttered, minimalist)?
  • Does the design support the page’s purpose and target audience?
  • Are the images related to the content or provide additional information about the page? 
  • Is the look consistent from page to page? 

Content Drives Layout and Design

“‘Content is King’ – you might have a pretty web site which will catch someone’s eye, but if the content is no good, you can be willing to bet that they aren’t going to stick around.” — Selene M. Bowlby

After completing your content audit based on the needs and requirements of you and your users, you will write the content for your website knowing what you should keep, remove, add, revise or merge. It is important to know that your content should be written before you determine the look and feel of your website.

Content drives what the layout and design should be because you don’t want to be forced to try and fit your content into a predetermined layout and design. If you realize something is hard to describe in words and works better as an image or infographic, you don’t want to be stuck in a text-based layout; or if you find out you need something to be written out, you don’t want to be stuck in a graphics-based layout.

Writing your content is probably the step that will take the longest because you will probably need to write all of the content and then re-examine that content to determine the best way to give that content to your users. Throughout the process, always refer to the content evaluation questions and the content creation process.

Editorial Style Tips

Our Name

Our official name is “Ozarks Technical Community College” or “OTC.” When using abbreviations, use OTC, or “the college.”

Centers and Campuses

OTC has three campuses and three centers.

Official names of OTC campuses and centers:

OTC Springfield Campus
OTC Richwood Valley Campus
OTC Table Rock Campus
OTC Republic Center
OTC Waynesville Center
OTC Lebanon Center
OTC Online

Please use the official names of OTC campuses and centers on first reference. On second reference, “OTC Springfield” or the “Springfield campus” is acceptable.


Instructor Bob Smith is capitalized, but Bob Smith, history instructor, isn’t. Same with president and director. Department of Education is capitalized, but “Go to the education department” or “I got an A in education” isn’t. Ozarks Technical Community College is capitalized, but “the college” isn’t.

Academic Degrees

An OTC graduate earns an “associate degree” from the college. Never say or write “associate’s degree.” Bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees are possessive, associate degrees are not. Capitalize specific degrees and lowercase general degrees. Example: Associate of Arts vs. associate degree


Capitalize titles only when they precede personal names. Example: The governor agrees with Dr. Hal Higdon, chancellor of Ozarks Technical Community College.

OTC faculty members are referred to as “instructors,” not “professors.”

When a person holds a doctoral degree, use Dr. on first reference with first and last name. On all further references, use last name only.

Courses vs. Classes

Course means a series of classes, on a particular subject, usually lasting a whole semester or year.
Uppercase specific courses or programs and lowercase when describing courses in general.

Examples: I’m taking Chemistry 101 this summer. I’m taking chemistry this summer.

Word Spacing

Use only one space!

Serial Comma

Only use it when necessary to clarify meaning.  Examples: Café 101 has orange juice, toast and eggs. Café 101 sells orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs.

For more information, see the OTC Editorial Style Guide.

Best Practices


DO: Use special typestyles (bold, italic, ALL CAPS) sparingly

Don’t make every other word on your site bold or italic or in ALL CAPS. Only use them sparingly when you want to emphasize something important.

DO NOT: Use centered blocks of text-justify text to the left

Avoid text that is centered for paragraphs or other large blocks of text. The jagged edges of centered text take longer to read and tend to interrupt the flow of the text.

DO: Use only one space!

The AP Stylebook advises leaving a single space, not two spaces, between sentences and after colons used within a sentence.

Section Headers

“A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read. Write for online, not print.” — Jakob Nielsen

Think of headers as the outline of your page. They should be arranged to show the hierarchical ordering of information from the broadest and important (Heading 2) to secondary information that supports the information in your Heading 2 (Heading 3) to the most specific information that supports the information in your Heading 3 (Heading 4).

As an outline, you should always start with the most important — Header 2 — with your Header 3 information below that and your Header 4 information below your Header 3 information. Do not skip levels — don’t start with a Header 3, or go straight from a Header 2 to a Header 4. You can go from a Header 3 or a Header 4 back to a Header 2 when you switch broad topics.

Do not just bold text for your section headings, use “header” tags (H2 for major headings, H3 for subheadings) instead. For screen reader users, header tags are vital in giving a sense of the main topics of the page and enabling easier navigation through your content. Additionally, effective header tags help with search engines — making your site more accessible to everyone.


Use concise, descriptive and unique link text.

Meaningful link text should not be overly general and should clearly describe the content to be found or action to be performed by the link (ask yourself if you could predict what you’d find if you clicked on the link by only reading the link text). Each piece of link text on a page should also be unique to the target of the link and be approximately two to five words long.

Using “Click Here” hurts accessibility and OTC is required to make all websites accessible

Users who are visually impaired will commonly move through content by tabbing through various different links within a page. If the title of the link is “Click Here” it provides no context for where the link goes and what it does. Links should be labeled with the most important keyword or phrase people are looking for to guide them to the information they want.

Using “Click Here” hurts your ranking in search engines like Google

In addition to making the page more accessible to all users, but especially helps disabled users, descriptive link text helps your search-engine ranking. “Click here” or the URL does not tell Google any additional information about your link so it ignores it, but meaningful text tells Google what you are linking to and that adds value of your site and the linked site.

Also, when users are scanning your website, they want to see links that tell them where the information they are looking for is located. If they just see a link titled “click here,” they are forced to read the surrounding text to find out if that is what they are looking for. Don’t force users to read the text surrounding a link to determine where it leads.

DO NOT: Bury important links within the text

You should try to structure your sentences so that the links fall at the beginning or end of your paragraph or sentence, especially when you want your readers to complete a task – sign up, email comments, purchase tickets, etc. This will make links easier to spot because users will see each one as soon as they start or finish reading the sentence.

Web users also have very short attention spans and don’t read articles thoroughly or in their entirety. They skim webpages, especially when they want to complete a task, to find the information they need and burying a link makes it harder for someone to scan the page and find the information they are looking for.


DO: Make sure your PDF is accessible

Whenever possible, link to pages rather than PDFs. When you do post a PDF, ensure that it was created from an electronic file and not a scanned image. Screen readers can usually interpret text from an original document but cannot from text in images.

Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader can do an accessibility “Quick Check” or “Full Check” on your document. Check Adobe help for your particular version of Adobe for accessibility tools.


DO: Always include descriptive alt text

All images and graphics need to have Alt Text. Alt text strengthens the message for search engines and improves the accessibility of your website. It shouldn’t surpass a single sentence and it is best to keep it under 16 words (Google seems to only count the first 16 words of alt text). Whenever possible, do not use a poster or a text-heavy graphic or image as a photo because someone who is blind or visually impaired can’t read the text on the image and the description of the text on the image is too long to include as alt text.

Alt text should be a natural description of the image in context. It should be clear and concise and describe the image to someone who is blind or visually impaired. Consider what the page looks like when images are not shown. Then, write Alt text that best works as a replacement.

Google also places a high value on alt text to determine what is in an image but also to determine the topic of surrounding text.

Don’t use redundant language like “An image of” or “This picture shows” as it is unnecessary.

DO: Name your files with appropriate titles

The filename can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image. Try to make your filename a good description of the subject matter of the image. This is also helpful for searching for images in the library when you want to reuse a photo that is already in the library.


  • chancellor-hal-higdon.jpg
  • Lincoln-Hall.jpg
  • Café_101.jpg


  • photo.jpg
  • img_9605_rs.jpg
  • picture-1568.jpg
  • 11949488_10153270_n.jpg

Image Dos and Don’ts

The images people look at most have the following characteristics:

  • Are high contrast and high quality (crisp and colorful)
  • Are cropped, rather than overly reduced, when necessary to fit a small space
  • Are not excessively detailed – easy to interpret, almost iconic
  • Are highly related to the content on the page
  • Possess magnetic features (something that draws your eye)

Features that make images magnetic include the following:

  • Smiling and approachable faces – They make us feel like we are actually connecting with other humans, not only with some coded website
  • People looking at (or at least facing) the camera
  • Clear instructions or information

People ignore images that have the following characteristics:

  • Are low contrast and low-quality
  • Are too busy for the space
  • Look like advertisements – People don’t like ads and over the years they have successfully learned to ignore them
  • Are not related to content on the page or only slightly related to it – people look for the content and ignore unrelated visual noise
  • Are boring, cold, fake, or too polished
  • Include people or objects that are generic or obvious stock art

Audio and Video

DO: Always caption all video

YouTube has very useful built in captioning tools. For videos not hosted on YouTube you can caption your videos using web applications like Universal Subtitles.

DO: Always include links to text transcripts for audio files

For a handy reference, use the Best Practices Checklist.