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Communications and Public Affairs

Writing Tone, Grammar and Style

Web copy should be brief, conversational and audience-specific. Higher-level pages should use broad language, and as the reader digs deeper into your site, pages should provide more detail. The deeper they are willing to go, the more specific information they will find.

Writing Tone

You only have a few seconds to engage your reader. So, to make the writing on your site more relatable, combine a conversational tone with “you” language. This places more emphasis on the reader than “we” and “us.”

Do this:
Chances are that an educator made a profound impact on your life, which planted the seed for your desire to make a difference, too! That’s why our students and faculty have created a college environment that fosters collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and problem solving — arming you with the tools to impact positive change in the lives around you.

Not that:
As educators, we strive to make a profound impact on the lives around us. Our students and faculty have created a college environment that fosters collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and problem solving, which impact positive change. 

A good exercise to help you think strategically about your page content is to use the “ACBs”:

  1. Audience. Who is the intended target(s) of the information?
  2. Content. What do you want to tell your reader? Why should this page exist? Your content should help your reader answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  3. Behavior. What do you want your reader to do, or what kind of action do you want your audience to take once they read the information?

 

Grammar

For grammar issues, the university typically follows The Associated Press Stylebook. University-specific rules and tips about tone and language can be found in the editorial standards section of the toolbox.

The following are examples of common errors:

  • list phone numbers with dashes, like “803-777-0000” and not “(803) 777-0000” or “803.777.0000”
  • write out the word “percent” instead of using the symbol (%)
  • punctuation such as the period at the end of a sentence should stay inside quotations (.”)
  • do not refer to Ph.D.-credentialed faculty as “Dr. ___”
  • use an apostrophe in “bachelor’s degree” and “master’s degree”
  • when in doubt, do not capitalize.

Acronyms

Although acronyms are an effective way to avoid repeating lengthy department, program or organization names, they should be avoided whenever possible. Often, the acronyms that we use are unfamiliar to prospective students and other external audiences who are not familiar with academic- or industry-specific entities. That said, there are times when acronyms can be used effectively:

When it becomes necessary, spell out the entity’s proper name upon first reference, followed by the acronym. The acronym can be used for any subsequent references on the page to simplify the language on the page.
EXAMPLE: Department of Educational Leadership and Policies (EDLP)

It is OK to use acronyms when the acronym is commonly used and better known than the proper name it represents. Be sure to provide context within the sentence to avoid confusion as even common acronyms can represent different things.
EXAMPLE: CNN

 

Style

Text styles and link styles have been built into the CMS to provide you with easy-to-use tools that simplify how to organize your information. Use the text styles to organize copy in readable blocks and establish an information hierarchy. Our link styles should indicate to the reader when they are leaving our site. Pull quotes and bullets can be used to highlight content and serve as a visual element to break up large blocks of copy.

Headers

Headers are used throughout the site as page titles, subheads and callout headers. Keep these guidelines in mind when writing headers:

  • most headers and page titles should be brief phrases (approximately five words or less)
  • if your headers form complete sentences, where punctuation is needed, then only the first word and proper nouns should be capitalized (sentence case) EXAMPLE: Be a leader.
  • if there is no punctuation, all important words should be capitalized (title case) EXAMPLE: Making an Impact
  • do not use acronyms in headers
  • use subheads to break up lengthy page copy. Breaking up the copy visually makes it less intimidating to readers so that they are more likely to remain engaged. 

  

best practice

Remember Your Reader

Online, readers use subheads and links as aids to skim for relevant information.

 

Make It Accessible

Keep in mind that your headings and links need to be clear, short, and specific for accessibility. Follow the Guides & Tutorials on the university's Digital Accessibility site to be sure your tone, grammar, and style are accessible.


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