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Writing Style Guide

Description: 

Use the Writing Style Guide to learn how to structure your content, catch your readers' attention and cut unnecessary information.

Inverted Pyramid style

Though traditional academic writing follows a pyramid style – that is, you lay the foundation using many sources and supportive research to build to a logical conclusion, writing for the web is best accomplished using an inverted pyramid style.

Like news stories, effective web writing should present the most important information first, with additional supporting detail to follow. By putting the main idea at the forefront, readers can decide whether the content is relevant to their goals and interests and avoid reading on only to find out it’s not what they’re looking for.  

When writing for the web

  • Catch your readers’ attention in the first few words
  • Start with the conclusion, follow with details
  • Remember: who, what, where, when, why and how
  • Convey only one idea per paragraph
  • Use half the word count of traditional writing

Write to be found in a search

Use words that your target audience use when searching. The Office of Public Relations and Communication can help identify what words to use based on previous searchers. You can also:

  • Ask your target users through conversation, focus groups or surveys
  • Use a service, like Google Ad Words, to help you determine keywords appropriate to your content

For example, we often call our employee directory the “jiffy,” but visitors will likely search for the “employee directory.”

Your keywords should be used both in the body of the page as well as in the headers.

Keep it short and to the point

Use active voice

Using active voice, the subject of your sentence is doing the action.

Example of active voice: The Department of Internal Medicine provides additional training opportunities.

Using passive voice, the subject receives the action. Often, the word “by” can signal if you are using passive voice.

Example of passive voice: Additional training opportunities are provided by the Department of Internal Medicine. (INCORRECT)

Cut wordy phrases

Make your sentences as concise and to the point as possible. Eliminate unnecessary words.

Example of wordy, passive phrase: In the event that it snows heavily, SIU School of Medicine’s Facebook page should be checked before coming to campus. (INCORRECT).

Example of concise, active phrase: If it snows, check SIU School of Medicine’s Facebook page before coming to campus. (CORRECT)

Use simple words

Instead of . . .

Use . . .

Obtain

Get

Prior to

Before

Purchase

Buy

Request

Ask for

Subsequent

Next

Terminate

End

Utilize

Use

Facilitate

Help

 

Tip: It’s okay to be less formal. When writing, think about how you might say the same thing to someone over the telephone.

Use longer, more descriptive links

Your readers should know what to expect when clicking a link. When linking to content, provide 7-11 words describing the link.

You may also choose to provide brief descriptions with a shorter link to inform your audiences.

Example of a vague link: Directory

Example of a descriptive link:  Find a person in the employee directory or Employee directory

 

Introduction text: good or bad?

Most readers skip the introductory text on web pages and jump directly to information easier to scan. Users have found that:

  • Intro text is usually meaningless
  • Intro text is usually too long

Although many readers skip the intro text, it can be useful if it’s kept to 1-2 sentences.