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Formatting Guide


Learn when to use headings and lists and what is considered the optimal word count.

Use headlines and headings

The headline at the top of the page should identify the content of the page immediately. Also use subheadings throughout your pages to break content up and make it easier to scan.

Headings should provide visual cues

Headlines and section headings, or subheadings, should be high contrast and attract the eye, while acting as a bullet-point summary of the page. The Office of Public Relations and Communication is developing a style guide to assist you in your decision making and to assure a consistent look throughout the SIU School of Medicine website.

Headings should be useful

Headings should inform the content that appears below them. Be clear and concise. Cutesy headings don’t help your reader.

Consider a number of ways to write headings that will appeal to your target audiences:

  • Questions make effective headings for user guides, procedures and policies. Be sure your questions reflect how actual users would phrase them.
  • Phrases and sentences are effective when creating subheadings within a long page of content.
  • Nouns as headings are most effective when the noun clearly identifies something the user is looking for. They are, however, less action-oriented that the other heading types.


Question:                    How do I apply to SIU School of Medicine?

Verb Phrase:               Applying for admission to SIU School of Medicine

Imperative:                  Apply for admission to SIU School of Medicine

Sentence:                    You can apply to SIU School of Medicine in three easy steps.

Noun:                          Application for admission


Highlight keywords in your text

Use forms of highlighting, which include bold, italics, color, font and links, sparingly – once or twice in each paragraph at the most.

Choosing colors and styles that do not fit the website’s style and color palette will only lessen the integrity of your site and turn readers off to your content.

Use bulleted or numbered lists

Lists create chunks of content that make scanning easier. Consider using a list for:

  • Options
  • Steps
  • Items

For steps in a process, use numbered lists and action-oriented imperatives (“open this” or “click on”).


  1. Register for a username.
  2. Log in to the portal.
  3. Download the application.

Use numerals

When writing numbers, particularly as they represent facts, use numerals instead of words (i.e. 5 instead of five).

Word count rules of thumbs

  • Headings: 8-10 words
  • Sentences: 15-20 words
  • Paragraphs: 40-70 words
  • Pages: 500 words or less