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Writing for Pima.edu

What is writing for the web? 

The main goal for web writing is to be direct and accessible. When writing for the web, keep it conversational, brief and jargon-free. Effective web writing answers people's questions and helps them get involved with your team's program or resource. 

You don't need to be a web developer or professional writer to create amazing web content. There are a lot of small ways you can make your web content clearer and more dynamic. You just need to know a few tips and tricks. 

How do I use this guide? 

Use the following guidelines, tips and suggestions to create effective content that engages your audience and meets your goals.

There are three parts to this guide:

  1. The Getting Started section helps you start and plan your web content. 

  2. The Content section has specific guidance on writing good content for your web page.

  3. The Organization section has tips on how to structure your web page.

Questions? 

Want to change up the content on your webpage or have questions about the web writing guide? Email websystems@pima.edu to get started. 

Key Terms

Throughout this guide, we use a few keywords. Here are some quick definitions:

  • Content
    • The text and images on a webpage
  • Webpage
    • Where your team adds content to provide information about your program or resource on the web 
  • Site
    • The full Pima.edu website 
  • Reader
    • Anyone who is looking at your content. For Pima.edu, that will mostly be students and community members.

Getting Started

Write for a specific audience. 

Sitting down with your team to outline who you want to read your content and why you want them to read it is crucial to writing effective web content. You know the people your team works with best, so write with them in mind.

Pima.edu's primary audience is students. Its secondary audience is community members. Faculty and staff also might find Pima.edu helpful, but they are not the target audience for your content. In a nutshell, your content needs to be useful and relevant to future, current and past Pima students first and foremost. 

A few tips to write for a specific audience:

  • Use language your audience is familiar with and uses themselves
  • Write out what acronyms mean the first time you use them in your content
  • Add links to other Pima pages that would be helpful instead of making students search for that information on their own
  • Make your contact information clear and visible on the page

Write content that helps and informs. 

The website is a first introduction to Pima for many students and community members. The website can't tell them everything they need to know about your program or resource. But, it can be an effective starting point for readers to find clear, understandable answers to their questions.

Before adding content to your page, ask yourself:

  • Does this content answer questions about my program or resource? 
  • Does it paint a clear picture of what my program or resource can offer students? 
  • Does it help students and community members take an action to get involved at Pima (i.e. enroll in classes, attend an event, talk to an advisor, etc.)? 
  • Does it need to be on the main website, or can we get this information out another way? 

If the content in question doesn't address one or more of these questions, it is likely not the right fit for Pima.edu. If it's a resource for staff and faculty, consider adding it to the intranet or to an internal communications tool, like a shared Google Drive.


Content

Use a friendly tone and have empathy for your reader. 

Keep a personal, upbeat tone in your writing. Put yourself in your reader's shoes and write with them in mind. Readers love content that is clear and relevant to their lives. 

Which means really formal, institutional writing can be off-putting and alienate readers who want quick and accessible information.

Finding your voice as a web writer is an ongoing process, but there are a few things that help create a friendly tone: 

  • Use the first and second person. Talking to students? Use "you" to address them instead of "students." Describing your program? Say "our" program. People connect with web content that sounds like it's speaking right to them. 
  • Use contractions. Change "do not" to "don't", "cannot" to "can't" and "will not" to "won't." Contractions are conversational and make your writing approachable. 
  • Keep your writing around an 8th grade reading level, and use language your readers would use. 

Make your content scannable. 

"Scannable" content means readers can easily find the main ideas of your page, even if they don't read every word. Research shows most readers don't read web content word for word. Instead they hop around looking for the most important details. In general, you want to keep your web page under 700 words to keep readers engaged. 

You can make your content scannable by:

  • Using lists to describe processes or details instead of long paragraphs
  • Adding headers to break up the sections of your content
  • Breaking up long paragraphs into shorter sections with spaces in between them 

Use an active voice instead of a passive one. 

Always name who or what is doing the action in a sentence. For example: 

  • Yes: Carlos taught the class.
  • No: The class was taught by Carlos.

Use effective keywords. 

  • What are keywords?

Keywords are the most important words and phrases in your content. They are words or phrases Pima students and communities use and look for when searching your webpage. 

Keywords also improve the searchability of Pima’s website. The more words you include in your content that readers search for on the web, the more readers will visit your page. 

  • How do I identify keywords?

Start by asking your team what words best represent your program or resource. Look at other marketing materials to see what words and phrases you repeat often. If you work directly with students or community members, listen to what words they use and ask for their feedback on your content. 

Another good way to identify keywords is to Google your program or resource. Looking at the search results, consider:

  • What are the top search results? What titles or headlines are they using?
  • What words or phrases repeat in multiple results? 
  • At the top of the search, there is also a list of search ideas that Google suggests as similar to your search. What words and phrases are used in those suggestions?

While repeating keywords throughout your content is a good practice, there is such thing as too much repetition! Use synonyms once in a while to keep your content varied and interesting. 

Link to relevant information. 

As you write your own content, you also want to think about what other webpages would be good to add links to on your page. All web content is connected and a great webpage helps make those connections for the reader. 

Use internal links to other Pima pages and external links to outside sources to add credibility to your content. 

  • Internal links

If you mention another program or resource at Pima, link to its webpage. If you include someone’s contact information, link to their email address. If you want the reader to view your FAQ page, link to it on your main page. 

These are examples of when to add internal links, or links to other Pima web pages, to your content. Adding links to other Pima pages helps the reader find what they are looking for without having to start a new search. It also builds connections between pages, which makes the Pima website streamlined and helpful. 

  • External links

You can also add links to pages outside Pima.edu! If there is a helpful news story, resource or research that makes your content more dynamic, link to it. Just be mindful that these pages are relevant and credible. Use external links sparingly as the main goal of our website is to keep the reader on Pima.edu.  

  • Naming links

Web usability experts discourage phrases like “click here” or “follow this link” for naming links in your content. Screen readers and other assistive technologies can't follow links named "click here," and these names don't help the reader understand where the link goes. 

Instead, add the link to the part of a sentence or phrase that makes the most sense, usually the name of the thing you’re linking to. Keep your links 4-8 words in length. For example: 

  • Yes: For more information, view our list of resources
  • No: To find out more about our additional resources, click here

Translate the content of a PDF onto your webpage. Don’t just link to it. 

A lot of time goes into making a well-designed PDF. It can be tempting to post the PDF everywhere. PDFs can be great resources for students and staff, but most users will skip over PDFs when reading a webpage and miss that important content. Also, PDFs often aren’t accessible for web users who use screen readers or other assistive technology. 

Instead of linking lots of PDFs to your page, summarize the 3-5 most important ideas from a PDF on your web page. You can always provide the PDF to readers later as an additional resource. PDFs can support content on your webpage, but they shouldn't be used as a substitute for web writing.

Keep your content up to date. 

Check on your content regularly. Outdated web content is confusing and makes the website look unprofessional. It can also affect readers’ trust in your information. Make sure your staff and contact information is up-to-date and take down any past events from your page. 

It's also good to add new and interesting content to your page regularly. Your page is a great place to feature student success stories, new opportunities and information on community partnerships. 


Organization

Start with your most important content. 

Your first paragraph and introductory sentences are the most important sections of your web page. The first paragraph should give the reader an overview of what they will find on your page. Think of this as an outline of the most important details. It should also draw the reader in with interesting and relevant information that inspires the reader to stay on your page. 

Introductory sentences in the following paragraphs should state the main idea of the paragraph. They are also good places to use key words and add creativity. Think of these as hooks that draw the reader in. 

Finally, save more specific, supporting information for later on the page.  Links to additional resources, information about next steps readers can take, or specific program details are good ideas for the last part of your page. 

Short sentences and paragraphs are key.

 The main goal of web content is to be accessible for all readers. 

Keep your sentences under 30 words and your paragraphs less than 5 lines long. Avoid complicated sentence connectors like semicolons or dashes. While they look creative, these connectors often hide important details.

When in doubt, break down long sections into multiple, shorter sections to make sure all important details are clearly visible to the reader. 

Cover one idea at a time. 

Focus on one topic per paragraph. Yes, just one topic! When you’re ready to cover a new topic, change to a new paragraph. Creating multiple, short paragraphs makes the page easier to read and helps each of your ideas stand out.

It’s okay for paragraphs to look short and fragmented on the web. This means there is a good balance of text and white space, aka the blank space around the text, which makes the page visually easy to read.

Write helpful headers.

A header is a title for a webpage or page section. They act like guideposts that outline a webpage’s information for the reader. Headers should:

  • Be short and direct (5-8 words is a good length to shoot for)
  • Be understood on their own without further explanation or context
  • Use keywords that are important to your program or resource
  • Get to the point. Creative headers can be fun but aren’t helpful to the reader who is looking for quick answers and direct information.  

Pima’s content management system (CMS) has different sized headers you can use. Using different sized headers in your content creates visual interest and helps organize your sections. A general rule of thumb is to use:

  • H2 for the title of the page and main headings
  • H3 for subheadings

Everything else should be formatted as regular text.

Use text formatting purposefully. 

Use text formatting like bolding and italics sparingly and with a purpose. Too much special formatting is distracting for the reader and makes content hard to read. Instead:

  • Bold keywords and important phrases that really need to be emphasized 
  • Italicize supporting information, like a caveat or clarification

In general, avoid underlining. Underlining a word makes it look like a link and will be confusing to the reader. 

Work with Websystems to add original photos and videos. 

Photos and videos add creativity to your page. Reach out to the Websystems team to discuss adding visual content to your page. We always encourage you to provide photos or videos your team has taken. Your photos have to be original and have no copyright issues (see our photo release form). The Websystems team makes the final decisions on whether/how to use these files

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