Web Standards Writing for the Web
The goal of this guide is to promote consistency in Alfred University's digital publications, ensuring that content adheres to both institutional style/brand standards and best practices for web content. Anyone responsible for creating, editing, or otherwise contributing to digital content at Alfred is encouraged to reference this guide.
The quality of our web content should reflect the high quality of instruction and experience at Alfred. Adherence to the style and standards referenced in this guide will help us meet this objective. By conveying a consistent voice and tone, we will cultivate trust and promote conversation with our audience as we support their informational needs and engage them with the Alfred brand and experience.
Primary website audiences
- Prospective students
- Parents & families
Secondary website audiences
- Current students
- Faculty and staff
- Community and region (business/research partners, residents)
- Donors and prospective donors
Voice, Tone & Content Guidelines
Voice is the consistent expression of the Alfred identity, while tone is how we adjust our communication to be appropriate for specific contexts or audiences.
For instance, let’s say two characteristics of your voice are to be approachable and helpful. On a page with financial aid content, our tone needs to be more serious in providing clear explanation, yet supportive and helpful given the potentially stressful and emotional context from which people may be experiencing that content.
Content about student clubs and activities, however, can be lighter, conveying more enthusiasm in inviting people to learn more about campus life.
In both instances, the institution represents itself as approachable and helpful, but the tone is considerate of the audience, the subject matter, and the context in which they both operate.
More like this:
- Become Who You Are
- Like Nowhere Else
- Where Creativity Comes Alive
Less like this:
- A Rural Gem (doesn’t properly qualify location)
- A Tradition of Excellence (vague)
- With You Every Step of the Way (leans toward hand-holding)
Call to Action
More like this:
- Find Research Opportunities
- Explore Our Campus
- Browse Fall 2019 Courses
Less like this:
- Read more
- Learn more
Language & Style
- Use gender-neutral terms
- Lowercase when possible
- Use closed co-compound words (co-, multi-, pre- post-, -wide), ie. coauthor, multiethnic, precollege, postdoctorate, citywide, campus-wide, etc.
- Hyphenate sparingly; close up prefixes unless they would otherwise confuse readers
- No periods in academic degrees (BA, MA, PhD, MBA, ...)
- Capitalize course titles
- When referring to the institution, do not capitalize the words "university, college, institute, program," etc., unless using full official name. Lowercase these words if standing alone
Alfred-Specific Style Considerations
Idioms can build a sense of community in a story or blurb that targets current students or alumni but may be off-putting to site visitors or prospective students who don’t have the inside scoop or background. Use official names of people, buildings, and places for external audiences; shortened names for those within the campus community.
University, College and School references
- First reference: Alfred University
- Second reference: the University, AU
Web Writing & Publishing Best Practices
If you only adhere to one guideline for writing on the web, it should be this: write like a human. We are writing for people, so our writing should be human in its tone, warmth, and structure. If you’re unsure if your content fits these criteria, read your copy aloud to yourself or a peer. If it feels unnatural or clunky, consider further revision.
- Follow the adage popularized by Strunk & White: “Omit needless words.”
- Cut to the chase. Don’t say more than you need to in order to convey your message or state the facts in an engaging, direct manner.
- Don’t waste your reader’s time with clever prose or poetic language, as it only inhibits task completion and comprehension
- Avoid meaningless phrases like “an innovative reputation for cutting-edge excellence”
- Relatedly, a website does not require a welcome note, introduction, greeting or signature. A letter from a dean or other personality is not an appropriate web content type, especially as the homepage of a website. Such devices only serve as obstacles between your audience and the information they seek. Get out of the user’s way.
- Use the active voice.
- Encourage calls to action by using action verbs: read, donate, visit, search, apply, register, like, subscribe, submit, request, etc.
- In addition to supporting more direct, assertive communication, it requires fewer words.
- Use simple words rather than complex words or bulky phrases wherever possible. This helps reinforce a genuine, conversational voice, as well as clarity of meaning. While we are an academic institution, on our website, we are communicating as approachable peers, not as verbose scholars.
- Avoid jargon or overly technical terminology
- Use consistent terminology in how you refer to programs, degrees, etc.
- Avoid hackneyed phrases and idioms
- “Get your ducks in a row”
- “Bang for your buck”
- “Cut from the same cloth”
- “Get the ball rolling”
- Avoid unnecessary use of superlatives and adjectives (e.g. our exemplary research facilities, our one-of-a-kind internship program, our unique students) and instead let the qualities of these features speak for themselves.
- Avoid hyperbole or unsupported claims (e.g. we have the most successful students, our chemistry program is the best in the country) and instead use facts, data, and or rich, descriptive imagery to tell the story
- Aim for short sentences and paragraphs (~3 sentences), but don’t compromise meaning for length. Short may not always be feasible in order to communicate a thought effectively. Strive for clarity above all.
- A good guideline is to limit yourself to one concept per sentence and one broader concept per paragraph.
- Avoid repetition. Repeating information only obscures your point, rather than reinforcing it.
- Be brief whenever possible. For complex or lengthy text such as disclosures, disclaimers, and instructions, write as concisely and clearly as possible, creating a hierarchy that distinguishes this content from other content on the page.
- But don’t make page content so brief that the page loses value. A page should, as a general rule, have at least a paragraph’s worth of valuable, relevant information.
Visual Identity & Brand Guidelines
Please reference the Alfred University Brand Style Guide for more information relating to our visual identity, use of photography/graphics, wordmarks, logos, fonts, colors and more.