Writing for the Web

Websites under the York domain should communicate with visitors in a clear, user-friendly manner. To do so, it is important to get the information to users in the most effective and efficient way by simplifying information.

The following tips will help you write clear, concise, web-friendly text:

Paragraph Text

  • use plain language;
  • avoid using internal language;
  • include only one idea per paragraph;
  • keep paragraphs short and easy to scan - limit paragraphs to 2 to 4 sentences in length;
  • minimize scrolling by being succinct and avoiding redundant text;
  • emphasize information by separating it from the rest of the content (with line breaks or a bullet list);
  • have only one topic per page – any other information should go on a dedicated page;
  • be consistent in the use of terms and acronyms – spell them out in their first occurrence referring to the acronym in brackets (eg. York University (York));
  • use an informal, friendly, conversational voice;
  • show, don’t tell - choose visual elements like photos, illustrations, videos, and diagrams over long descriptions;
  • keep your voice consistent throughout your site; and
  • use consistent naming conventions throughout your text.

Hyperlinks

  • link to relevant resources in your copy - readers will appreciate the convenience of instantly accessing this material;
  • avoid making titles hyperlinks – embed a link within the following content instead;
  • make hyperlink text the same as the title of the destination page so your visitor knows where they'll go before clicking through; and
  • if hyperlink destinations are to documents, state the document type in the link text (eg. Named Link (pdf)).

Grammar & Punctuation

  • use capital letters to indicate proper nouns, acronyms, and the first letter of a sentence;
  • use italics only within the main content area of the page, but not in titles, navigation or in bulleted lists;
  • only use one space after a sentence (i.e. after a period), not two spaces;
  • all (English) spelling should be in Canadian / British English (see York’s Language Style Guide  for complete details); and
  • titles / page headers should follow “title case”, meaning that you should capitalize all nouns, pronouns, verbs and all other words of four or more letters.

Text Organization

  • put all the critical elements of your page into the first 2 to 3 sentences - assume visitors will read the first paragraph and skim the rest;
  • use descriptive headings and sub-headings to provide meaningful road markers for those skimming through the content;
  • put the most important information first;
  • use (properly marked-up) headings and sub-headings to guide your visitor through what they are about to read;
  • use bullet points or numbered lists where possible;
  • use bolded text  sparingly;
  • when bolding text use <strong> tags instead of <b> (<b> has been deprecated);
  • when italicizing text, use <em> tags instead of <i> (<i> has been deprecated); and
  • underlining should only be used to highlight hyperlinks within the main body content.

Accessibility Issues:

Well-written text is accessible to all visitors no matter what their abilities include. Using proper mark-up ensures that all devices interpret and communicate your text the same way for all your visitors.