If you haven’t taken the writing for the web training session with Lisa Gray Giurato, the Website Content Manager, please contact Lisa at lgraygiurato@cornellcollege.edu so she can schedule your training. For those CMS users who have taken the training, you can refresh your memory with these guidelines.

Content plan

Before you begin to write a new website page in our CMS (content management system), take a step back and create a content plan. A content plan prompts you to answer these questions before you begin to write:

  • Who is my audience?

  • What do I want the website visitor on this page to do?

  • When should I schedule a review of this page in the future? (Any answer that is under 13 months is a good answer. Any answer that is longer than a year from the date it was published indicates this content is not appropriate for the ever-changing web.)

Web writing best practices

  • Write for people who scan subheads and links.

  • Use your subheads to outline the most essential and important pieces of information in a logical order.

  • Break your copy into small 40-50 word paragraphs under your subheads.

  • Show the website visitor what you want them to do next.

  • Review your content for possible accessibility issues before you publish.

  • Review your content for spelling and grammatical errors before you publish and review the “live” page after you publish for one final quality assurance check.

Create the content

  • Adhere to the Cornell College Style Guide.

  • If you can’t find answers in the Cornell College Style Guide, consult the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.

  • Create your content in a Google document that can easily be edited and shared with your colleagues.

  • Ask a reviewer (preferably someone who has taken Cornell’s writing for the web training) to review the content and offer feedback. Or ask our Website Content Manager to review your content and offer feedback.

  • Check and triple-check for spelling errors and grammatical errors before you place your content in the CMS.

  • Then, you can publish in the CMS.

Accessibility compliance

Higher ed websites must be section 508 compliant by January 2018. As a web content writer, you impact Cornell’s accessibility compliance. Follow these general guidelines:

  • Write in clear language.

  • Convert all your PDFs or other documents to be accessible before uploading into the CMS. Not sure how to do this? Attend one of Academic Technology's workshops on the subject. Ask for help from the website content manager in the Office of Marketing and Communications. Or for more information on accessibility contact Academic Support and Advising

  • When creating a link on your page, make sure the anchor text of your link is descriptive and not generic. For example, do not use the anchor text of “Click here,” or “Learn more,” as your linking text. Instead describe the page content the website visitor will discover if they follow your link. For example, “contact off-campus studies,” or “campus events calendar.” This allows users of screen readers to clearly understand the destination of the link.

  • Every image or photo on the website must have an image alternative text description of the photo. Ask Lisa Gray Giurato, Website Content Manager, if you are unsure how to do this.

  • Use visual cues with care; color or “image icons” should be a secondary way to convey information.

  • Tables need a summary or description for screen readers as well as column header tags and defined rows. Tables should only be used to display tabular data, not as web page structure. Ask Lisa Gray Giurato, Website Content Manager, if you are unsure how to set up a table or need to display information in a non-standard layout.

  • Rely on the built in page styles to format your content; do not use presentational attributes (border, align center, align left, align right, bgcolor) in the HTML Source Editor.

  • Do not use styling tags in the HTML (<b>, <i>,  or <font>). <strong> tags (for making text bold) is allowed. 

  • Videos must have closed captioning. A title should be given within the <iframe> tag within the HTML Source Editor. YouTube offers free automatic closed captioning, but you will want to check the captioning for accuracy. 


When web users search for content in a search engine, like Google, they see a list of page titles (SEO titles) and descriptions on the search engine results page. You have the power, as the content writer, to tell the search engines what page title and description to use.

Use a tool like serpsimulator.com to make sure your page title and description do not exceed the character limits allowed. Copy and paste your page title and description into the metadata section within the CMS.

Example search description (note the page title format and the length of the description):

example of a search engine result listing

Brand and voice

  • Write in the second person instead of the third person.

Example of third person:

Cornell College students gather on the OC to explore off-campus studies opportunities.

Example of second person:

You can meet with the off-campus studies coordinator on the OC to explore off-campus studies opportunities.

  • Use active voice.

Example of passive voice:

Internships are experienced by over 90 percent of Cornell students.

Example of active voice:

90 percent of Cornell students learn by doing through internships.

  • Be concise.

Example of a first draft sentence:

For the majority of first-year and transfer students, moving onto campus and beginning the orientation process will occur on Wednesday, August 30.

Example of a revised and concise sentence:

Orientation begins on the first possible move in date: Wednesday, August 30.

Working in our CMS

If you haven’t taken a CMS user training session with Lisa Gray Giurato, Website Content Manager, contact Lisa to schedule your training session. You’ll learn more in the training session than can be provided online.

CMS best practices

  • Don't use the CMS as storage for old CMS website pages that are no longer active or for storing documents. 
  • Don't create a new page for every year; instead update the existing page with the latest information every year.
  • Your folder and page name in the CMS is also the URL structure so please format correctly. Note the dashes with no spaces between words in the folder name, which mimics the URL structure. 

naming convention example

  • Always place all your images in a non-indexed folder within the section you are editing in the CMS named: images.
  • Always place all your PDFs or other documents (section 508 compliant for accessibility) within the section you are editing in a non-indexed folder within the CMS named: pdfs or files.
  • Images should not exceed 200 kb in size.