Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print publications. Web visitors scan content; they don't read every line on the page and every word in a line of copy. They are searching for information. Help them find it. 

Writing for the web best practices

  • Organize your content for visitors who scan pages. 
    • Decide the purpose or goal of the page and make sure the content supports it.
    • Write like a journalist and use the inverted pyramid formula: most important content at the top, least important at the bottom. 
    • Write meaningful headings and group content under the headings. 
    • Use bullet points for easy to scan pieces of content.
    • Write short paragraphs with only one idea per paragraph. 
  • Write clearly and concisely.
    • Minimize unnecessary words. (You can always find additional words to eliminate if you edit and proof your content.)
    • Avoid jargon and technical terms. 
    • Write for an 8th grade reading level, because the average web visitor reads at this level. (You can test your content using The Readability Test Tool.)
  • Write in active voice because more often than not, active voice is more concise.
    • In active voice, the subject does the action. (The student researched social constructs.)
    • In passive voice, the subject receives the action. (The social constructs were researched by the student.)

What not to do

  • Don't underline. Underlining denotes hyperlinked text.
  • Don't use double (or more) spaces after end punctuation marks (periods, exclamation points, question marks). 
  • Don't write in all caps. Assistive devices will read each letter as an individual letter. For example, "SCREAM" would be read as S-C-R-E-A-M. 

Writing link text

  • Don't use generic anchor text for your hyperlinked text. For example, the terms "click here," "read more," "learn more," and "here" are not descriptive enough for a web visitor using assistive technology to understand all the links on a page.
  • If you are linking to a document (PDF, Word document), note the document type in parenthesis or brackets after your descriptive anchor text. 
  • Don't do this: Refer to Cornell's style guide by clicking here
  • Do this: Refer to Cornell's style guide [PDF].

Writing headings

  • Organize your headings to present the content in a logical reading order.
  • Write headings that assist scanning visitors in finding information quickly. 
  • Headings can be informative and direct attention to important pieces of content. 

Writing concisely

Ask a colleague to edit and proofread your copy before publishing. Tell them to use this web page as a guide. The Hemingway App assists you in writing like its namesake. 

  • Avoid long or complex sentences. 
  • Don't use a longer word when a shorter word will do. (Notice I did not use the word utilize in place of use.)
  • Write boldly. Avoid adverbs and long phrases. 
  • Use active voice. Passive voice lengthens sentences. 
  • Count your words
    • Headings: ten words or less
    • Sentences: 20 words or less
    • Paragraphs: 60 words or less

Embedding videos

Videos need to follow section 508 Standards for accessibility if you're embedding them on a page. This includes:

  • Title tag in the HTML that provides context for the video
  • Closed captioning

Being good stewards of Cornell's reputation

  • The Office of Marketing and Communications offers writing for the web training for all web creators on campus. 
  • You're expected to follow the writing for the web guidelines, which includes following Cornell's style guide
  • Have your content proofed for spelling and grammar errors by a colleague.
  • You must adhere to copyright laws for text and images.
  • Ask permission of individuals in an image before using it. 
  • Don't plagiarize. 
  • If you receive notice that you have spelling, grammar, accessibility, or broken link issues on a web page you are responsible for maintaining, remediate the page as soon as possible. 
  • Avoid egregious content (profanity, severe style guide violations, non-factual information). 
Cornell College follows WCAG 2.0 for section 508 Standards for web accessibility. If you require the content on this page in another format, please contact us.