Best Practices for Content Providers
Writing for the Web
Basics on Writing Good Content for the Web
The basic principles of effective web writing are simple and universal:
- High readability - use clear, simple language.
- Write with accessibility in mind, creating content that is clear, structured and readable. Read full article on Writing Accessibility.
- Keep blocks of text short and keep language simple and brief. Visitors may abandon your site if they can’t quickly grasp what you’ve written and find information.
- Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors. Don’t rely on spell check! Consider having a professional review your work, or a colleague who hasn’t previously seen the material.
- Write for your audience.
Write quality content that is purposeful, engaging and informative in easy to read language. Think about keywords as you create content to increase visibility for search engines and users using search engines.
- Online writing is visual.
- Structure your content by using headings to structure your content and styles to emphasize information.
- Organize appropriate content into bulleted or numbered lists. Lists are easier to scan and break up content on the page.
- Including meaningful graphics or photographs may complement your written content and create visual pacing.
Check out our typography tips page on more ways to format your content for the web (using headings, lists and tables, etc.).
What to Avoid:
- Avoid using jargon, slang and complex sentence structures whenever possible.
- Avoid multiple clauses and phrases, and lots of information stops and commas.
- Avoid acronyms; visitors may not be familiar with them.
- Avoid overly long paragraphs.
- Avoid misusing headings and tables for styling purposes or emphasis on content.
- Tables should be used for tabular data to organize, sort or compare information. See Great Examples of Data Tables Presented on Websites article
- Read When to use tables on our Typography Tips page
- .jpg / .jpeg (joint photographic graphics): It is best for used for photographs.
- .png (portable networks graphics): It is best for web graphics and illustrations and supports transparency backgrounds.
- .gif (graphics interchange format): It is commonly used for animation graphics.
- .svg (scalable vector graphics.): It is ideal for simple graphics such as logos.
- Jpg vs. Png vs. Gif vs. Svg: The Ultimate Guide to Image File Formats
- Common image file formats and when to use them
- Image file type and format guide
- Images and graphics should be relevant to the purpose of the site and the content of the page.
- Resize images proportionally so the image doesn’t appear squashed or stretched.
- Unless your image is purely decorative, always include meaningful alternative text for your images.
- Alternatively, if your image contains meaningful information beyond what you can include in alternative text, you must include that same information in the text of the page, as well, so it is scannable by assistive devices.
- Follow SEO guidelines for images and naming best practices.
Content on the web is highly accessible and inherently sharable. It’s easy to copy and republish material without thinking about copyright or permissions, and it’s often difficult to determine if an image is truly “free”.
According to the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” Copyright law protects the rights of creators of artistic content from having their work misused, and give them the ability to control how their work is used. Copyright law applies to both digital and printed publishing.
By illegally using someone else’s photo or graphic without their permission, you’re putting yourself at risk of being sued or fined.
- If you aren't sure an image is copyright-protected, assume that it is. Better safe than sorry!
- Read the fine print when purchasing images from a stock photo service to ensure the license is appropriate for your use.
- Seek out openly-licensed images for which the owner has granted reprint permissions. Look for photos with a Creative Commons license; again, be sure to check the fine print since there are a range of Creative Commons licenses.
- Copyright.gov: Copyright Basics
- The Best Ways to Be Sure You’re Legally Using Online Photos
- Creative Commons: About the Licenses
Avoid using tables to place objects on the page; reserve the use of tables for tabular data. This is important to ensure your content is responsive and accessible.
SEO is important for your site. Be sure to look and follow the SEO Guidelines page to your site.
Most publishers place severe restrictions on the posting of full-text articles on public websites. If you wish to provide full-text articles online or via email, we strongly recommend you consult with the University’s Scholarly Communication Librarian to verify that you have the rights to do so under your contract with the publisher. For more information, please refer to the ScholarlyCommons website.