General Guidance for Writing Content for the Web on the University of Maine System Website
The University of Maine System website follows the Associated Press Online Stylebook (External Site). Because the University of Maine System is an institution of higher learning and an institution that prioritizes accessible web content, consistency and accuracy are important. Please review your web content for errors in style, spelling and grammar.
Guidelines about writing for the web can be found below.
Title your page clearly and concisely
The title of your web page will display as the first heading on your page (see: Headings and Footers), and so it is the first thing that a website visitor will see when they come to your website. Make sure that the title of your web page accurately reflects the content on the page and is simple and easy to read. Learn how to use the Title and URL functions on our WordPress website.
Simplify your URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
The URL of your page, much like the title of your page, should be simple and easy to read. Your URL begins with the name of your website, followed by the name of your subsite, parent page and slug.
Example of subsite, parent page and slug position in a URL:
So, for the webpage you are currently reading (www.maine.edu/content-management/writing-style-guide/web-writing) the subsite is “content-management,” the parent page is “writing-style-guide,” and the slug is “web-writing.”
Most users will understand where they are on your subsite by looking at the URL, so try to reduce the amount of characters and phrases expressed in your URL by simplifying it to as short as possible.
A simple URL also helps boost the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for a page. Learn more about SEO.
Write in plain language
The information you publish should work well for the people who use it, the first time they read or hear it from a screen reader. This resource has developed templates, checklists and writing guidelines to help you develop communications in plain language. The definition of “plain” depends on your intended audience; at the same time, audiences have more in common than not when it comes to their need for clear communication. Focus on short, clear sentences. Stick to words the audience knows.
Want to learn more about how to write in plain language? The Plain Language Action and Information Network (External Site) is a government resource available to help.
Use an active voice
Whenever writing for the web, it is best to try to use the active voice. Passive voice sentences use many more words, can lead to tangled prepositional phrases and can be perceived as vague or not committing to a topic.
Sentences that are written in active voice place the action on the subject of the sentence. Sentences that are written in passive voice place the reception of an action on the subject.
Examples of passive and active voice
Active voice: The Professor suggests that the students must begin their research two weeks before the paper is due.
Passive: It is suggested by the professor that the students must begin their research two weeks before the paper is due.Active voice: Researchers earlier showed that high stress can lead to poor sleep.
Passive voice: It was earlier demonstrated that poor sleep can be caused by high stress.Active voice: The cat scratched the person.
Passive voice: The person was scratched by the cat.
Convert sentences into active voice
Below are some tips and strategies for converting sentences from passive voice into the active voice:
- Identify the “by” phrase (e.g. “by the cat” in the last example above). If you find one, the sentence is probably in the passive voice. Edit the sentence so that the subject buried in the “by” clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence.
- If the subject of the sentence is not easily understood or anonymous, see if you can use a general term, such as “the study,” “researchers” or “experts.”
Support your global audience
Writing in plain language supports non-native English readers who may be translating the web page as they read. In many fields, English is the international language—and non-English speakers many times will translate your content mentally as they read. Complicated concepts should be presented in clear language. Your audience may not be familiar with the jargon of your subject matter, so convey such terms are useful in short, clear sentences. Additionally, do not assume that a user knows all of the acronyms or abbreviations within your website’s area, and so please review our style guide’s guidance on abbreviations, acronyms and shorthand.
Images with text can be a barrier for conveying information to a global audience
The below information relates to how images and alt text fit into your work on the University of Maine System website.
Tools like Google Translate (External Site) offer a good example of the overlap between accessibility and multilingual content writing for the web—avoid images with text because if an image on your website has text as part of the image, this poses a challenge for accessibility and is also not inclusive in design for users for whom English is not their first, primary or known language (translation tools cannot always “see” the text within an image to translate it for a reader).
Our recommended tactic is to provide text outside of an image in alt text and/or accompanying an image. The University of Maine System has a growing community of international community members, students and faculty, and English may not be their primary language. Ensuring they can easily translate pages when necessary is important.
Write for easy scanning
- Keywords should go at the beginning of a sentence.
- Bullet points are useful when there is no specific order for quick, digestible information; whereas numbered lists are useful when information must come in a specific order.
- Frequent meaningful headings communicate structure.
- Breaking content into short, manageable pieces makes the content more approachable.
Put information in the right order (the “if” before the “then”)
Organizing information in a logical order is universally helpful for accessibility, inclusion and even search optimization. Think about what information a reader needs to know first. Make the topic clear in the first sentence before you dive into details. When listing options, put the condition first and follow that with what happens in that situation.
Example: A student in a certain program may need to take a prerequisite course before taking an advanced course. The prerequisite course should be listed with an explanation first, instead of as an afterthought later in the content.
Write with consideration for low-bandwidth users
Maine is a very rural state, and availability of broadband outside of our campuses can be limited—even for faculty, staff and students living in our surrounding communities. It is important to consider website accessibility guidelines because these guidelines help these users as well.
For example, while a full color PDF and a flipbook-style presentation is snazzy to a visitor using broadband, a well-structured page with proper headings helps users with slow connections when images may not quickly load (or load at all).
We encourage content creators to ask “should I add this as a PDF?” even if attempting to make a PDF that is accessible. Web pages are easier to make accessible, and offer a better experience for low bandwidth users than PDFs. See our PDF guidelines for more information.
Include mobile device users when creating content for your website
Our website has a mobile-friendly responsive design, which is intended to give mobile users a good experience without the need to maintain a separate mobile version of content. When building and writing for web pages, it is important to consider how your content displays on a mobile device or tablet. Limiting the use of PDFs, limiting images with text that is unreadable when scaled down to a mobile device and limiting tables are good examples of content that can be difficult to navigate on a mobile device.
External tools such as What is My Screen Resolution (External Site) may be useful to content owners who are curious about testing their website for a mobile device while on a desktop or laptop computer browser.