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Writing for Web

Overview

Campus communicators should use this guide along with RIT’s Editorial Guidelines when creating copy for all RIT websites.

You may spend hours carefully crafting the content for your website, but the sad truth is that most visitors will read just 28 percent of the words on a page. And more than half of your visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on your page. Web users also don’t read words from left to right, but rather they scan the page looking for phrases or keywords that capture their attention.

Write with the End in Mind

Before you begin crafting content, determine the goal of your web page/website. Do you want your visitors to do something, such as apply for admission? Do you want them to seek more information? Be clear about how you are using your site so you can craft an appropriate content strategy.

These guidelines based on industry benchmarks to help you write compelling content that visitors will actually read, and ultimately take the action you want them to take during the precious moments they spend on your site. Using best practices for writing for the web will result in:

  • Lower bounce rate (the percentage of instances that people immediately leave your page after arriving there)
  • Higher click-through-rate
  • Increased authority/credibility
  • Longer dwell time
  • Better readability

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.

While there are a seemingly endless number of SEO tools, software, and strategies, the truth is that improving your content is the best way to rank higher on search engine results pages, increase traffic, and drive new users to your website. Once viewers are on your site, your optimized content could lead to more conversions (actions taken that you want your users to take).

Here is a simple checklist of SEO best practices:

  • Write valuable, useful content on each page. Avoid fluffy content that provides no real information for the user.
  • Don’t pack the content with keywords or phrases you think people will use in searches. Integrate those phrases naturally.
  • Use bullet points, numbers, bold type, short paragraphs, and headers for better readability.
  • Avoid using the same content on multiple pages. Search engines view this as a technical issue and have a difficult time differentiating which page to rank.
  • Keep in mind word choice matters. Put yourself in your viewers’ shoes: what words do they associate your topic with. For example, research shows that the word “major” outperforms “program” in website search results by those looking to see what majors a college offers.

Page Titles

Titles should match the page content, and should be neither too narrow nor too broad.

  • Avoid acronyms in title pages
  • Titles should be short.
  • Never use periods or exclamation points.
  • Do not use a, an, or the as the first word (e.g., Economy of the Second Empire, not The Economy of the Second Empire), unless by convention it is an inseparable part of a name (e.g., The Hague).

Compelling Copy: Keep it Clear, Simple, and Concise

Attention spans are short on the web, and even shorter on mobile devices. Your website content should be easy to read.

  • Choose words that are simple and familiar to your audience.
  • Be concise: Don’t use 10 words when five can convey your message clearly.
  • Eliminate exclamation points and other punctuation that convey strong feelings or high volume.
  • Get to the point and eliminate extraneous copy.
Examples
Good

The professional studies program is specifically designed to enable students to create an individualized plan of graduate study tailored to their personal and professional goals. (25 words)

In the MS in professional studies, students create a personal plan of study tailored to their professional goals. (18 words)


Civil engineering technology makes many people think of hard hats, but construction is only one of many job opportunities available in this field. Solving challenges posed by the environment is a hot field in today’s civil engineering technology landscape. Civil engineering technology graduates restore polluted rivers as well as century-old bridges, design public parks accessible to people with disabilities, construct roadwork in isolated areas, design water delivery systems....you name it! (71 words)


Solving challenges posed by the environment is of critical importance. Civil engineering technology professionals restore polluted rivers, rehabilitate century-old bridges, design public parks that are accessible to people with disabilities, construct roadwork in isolated areas, design safe water delivery systems, and more. (42 words)

Support Claims with Facts, or Leave Them Out

Don’t make generalizations without providing context or factual information to support your claims.

Examples
Claim

The Kate Gleason College of Engineering at RIT is the nation’s premier career-oriented college of engineering.

Ranked No. 61 nationally by the Princeton Review, RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering is among the best engineering colleges in the nation.

With one of the oldest and largest cooperative education programs, RIT offers you full-time, real-world working experience before you graduate.

Leading national college guides have consistently ranked RIT as a leader in experiential education. Princeton Review cited RIT as one of 50 colleges in the 2017 edition of Colleges That Create Futures: 50 Schools That Launch Careers by Going Beyond the Classroom. U.S. News & World Report ranked RIT among 20 universities recognized for excellent cooperative learning and internship programs.

Bites, Snacks, Meals

The best way to attack web writing is to offer bites, snacks, and meals (in that order).

Bite

Powerful headlines that draw attention.

New RoboBee Flies, Dives, and Swims

Snack

Concise summary of your content in one to two sentences.

Hybrid robot could perform search and rescue missions, research studies, environmental monitoring

Meal

The full content of your message presented in a scan-friendly manner (or linked to, depending on your website design).

Full content RoboBee news story.

Scan-Friendly Text

Reading and scanning behaviors are different online. Research strongly illustrates that people scan web pages and phone screens. They rarely read content word for word.

  • Highlight keywords (But be careful not to overdo it—overemphasizing dilutes the impact of your message.)
  • Use meaningful subheadings (not clever ones). They act as the informal outline of the page.
  • Said another way, topload important information. Start with the content most important to your audience, then provide additional details.
  • Cut the word count in half whenever possible.
  • Focus on one idea per paragraph. Readers will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph.
  • Use the inverted pyramid style of writing. Tell the reader the conclusion, results, or outcomes first, followed by the most important supporting information, and ending with the background.
  • Use bullet points for optimal readability.
Examples
Good

Program Overview

The master of science degree in sustainable systems focuses on sustainable production systems, which create goods and services using processes that are non-polluting; conservation of energy and natural resources; economic viability; and safety and health for workers, communities, and consumers. Course work and research take a systems level and interdisciplinary approach to solving sustainability problems, as opposed to single disciplinary and locally optimized approaches destined to yield marginally positive impacts.

Graduates are prepared to pursue careers in their chosen field with an understanding of basic sustainability principles and the expertise to analyze and solve complex sustainability issues.

Plan of Study

Students must complete 24 credit hours of course work plus a 6-credit-hour thesis or capstone project. Full-time students may complete the degree in one year (two semesters plus one summer term).

Tracks

Students have the option of choosing one of four tracks: sustainable manufacturing, sustainable mobility, sustainable energy systems, and sustainable built environments. Students can also create additional tracks using elective courses (selected in consultation with the student’s advisor) from a wide variety of courses offered by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability or any one of RIT’s other colleges.

Program Overview

The MS degree in sustainable systems provides an understanding of sustainability principles. Students will develop the expertise to analyze and solve complex sustainability issues.

The program focuses on developing sustainable production systems, which create goods and services using processes that are non-polluting; conserve energy and natural resources; support economic viability; and ensure health and safety for workers, communities, and consumers.

Course work and research occur at a systems level and are interdisciplinary. This approach ensures that production changes are positive and impactful industrywide.

Plan of Study

Students complete a thesis or capstone project as part of their course work.

Full-time students can complete the degree in one year (two semesters plus one summer term).

Tracks

Students may choose one of four tracks:

  • sustainable manufacturing
  • sustainable mobility
  • sustainable energy systems
  • sustainable built environments.
Students may create additional tracks using elective courses (selected with an advisor) from a variety of courses offered by Golisano Institute for Sustainability or any RIT college.

Keep Your Audience Top of Mind

Your audience may enter your website from any page, and move between pages at will. It’s best to create content for each page that is independent of other pages. Don’t assume a user will go through your site in a linear manner (e.g., homepage, college page, department page). Also, don’t make assumptions about how your audience has arrived at your website.

Focus on the audience and what THEY want to know, not what YOU want to tell them.

Users are self-absorbed and task-focused, and they are visiting your site to find out specific information. Make sure they can complete their task or get the information they need quickly and easily.

Always put yourself in the user’s shoes: what information are they looking for? Don’t force information on them that they’re not interested in. The user is the center of the universe; we’re not. Our website is one among many.

Be relevant. Avoid any “so what?” content. Don’t provide information the user already knows, such as “This is the Department of X,” or doesn’t care about, such as “This program is housed in the college/school/department of…” or “Established in 1982, as the first program of its kind…”

Consider Your Voice and Style

Active vs. Passive Voice

Always write in active voice. It’s more exciting and tends to be less wordy.
Active voice: The lion attacked the village.
Passive voice: The village was attacked by the lion.

Examples
Passive Voice

Students can be assisted by College of Health Sciences and Technology faculty and academic advising staff if they need help with a personal problem that may impact academic performance, or need to discuss curriculum or a wide range of potential career choices and options.

Faculty and academic advising staff in the College of Health Sciences and Technology are available to assist students in understanding program requirements and addressing curriculum questions, discussing personal issues impacting academic performance, or exploring a range of career choices and options.

Avoid Jargon

The outside world has little interest in, or understanding of, our internal organizational structure. They don’t know what CIMS, CET, or MAGIC mean. Avoid jargon and acronyms whenever possible. Depending on the age and geography of your audience, slang and idioms have varying degrees of familiarity. Content must appeal to the widest audience possible.

Examples
Jargon/Acronyms

In addition, my involvement in the SHPE at RIT chapter enabled me to extend my professional network and provided me with promising opportunities.

In addition, my involvement in RIT’s Society of Hispanic Engineers enabled me to extend my professional network and provided me with promising opportunities.

Seek Out Correct Information

There are a multitude of places where you can confirm details about RIT. Correct information is crucial to presenting a strong RIT brand and an accurate narrative about the university.

Examples
Incorrect

RIT's cooperative education program is the 4th oldest and 5th largest in the world...

RIT's cooperative education program is the fourth oldest and one of the largest in the world...

Use Correct Titles for Departments, Majors, Etc.

When referencing academic programs (majors and options), academic departments, colleges, schools, or administrative departments, always use correct titles.

Examples
Incorrect

Requirement of co-op work experiences in food and nutrition supported by RIT’s Co-op & Placement Office.

Requirement of co-op work experiences in food and nutrition are supported by RIT’s Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education.

Incorrect

RIT’s Packaging Science program was first established in 1972. It is an interdisciplinary degree that leads to either a bachelors or masters of science.

RIT’s packaging science major is an interdisciplinary program of study that leads to either a bachelor of science or master of science degree.


Linking

Hyperlinks and links to PDFs can provide meaningful information to a reader who is seeking more in-depth knowledge of a topic. Using hyperlinks should be strategic and thoughtful.

  • Hyperlinks should explicitly describe what users can expect to find when they click on the link. Use the name of the website the link goes to.
  • Short, concise link titles are best. Links should not exceed 60 characters.
  • Do not use URLs as link text.
  • Avoid using click here. Visually impaired visitors often use auditory browsers, which will read the text aloud rather than display it visually so the link should be meaningful when read out of context.
  • Links to PDFs should use the title of the PDF as the hyperlink.
Examples
Incorrect

Annual program enrollment and degrees awarded information can be found here.

Incorrect

The online nomination form can be found at rit.edu/gcr/four-presidents-distinguished-public-service-award-nomination-form.

The nomination form is now available and accepting submissions.