The first rule of good web writing is: keep it simple.

Research shows that people spend less effort when reading on screens than they do in print – they tend to read more slowly, less accurately and less carefully on screens. Generally, if they don’t understand something, they won’t try to re-read it.

For this reason, all web content should be simple, informative, and help users to easily find the information they need. Before you write content for a UQ website, read the following to guide you:

1. Know your audience

Before you start writing, understand who your content is for. Think about the content from your user's point of view and make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the content?
  • What do users need to know?
  • What is their level of understanding?
  • How much time does the user have? (Usually the answer is "not much")

On UQ's websites, users may be looking for a wide range of information such as:

  • the name of a lecturer
  • how to apply for a scholarship
  • the location of a room or building
  • staff resources or
  • how to apply for a job.

Our web content should provide users with the information they need, or tell them how they can find that information elsewhere.

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2. Structuring your page

There is no such thing as a minimum or maximum page length, but remember that most users scan content instead of reading it thoroughly. Research shows that users generally scroll through a page and read small amounts of text until they find what they need.

To help users find what they need, you should lay out your page so it is easy to scan.

Remember, the layout of a page can change depending on screen size, so avoid using directional instructions like "choose an option from the left-hand column" or "click the button on the right".

Best practice tips

  • Use clear and meaningful headings and subheadings.
  • Communicate the most important information at the top of the page.
  • Avoid big blocks of uninterrupted text.
  • Use lists when possible – these help to speed up reading.
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3. Writing content

Our web content should be truthful and avoid making grand claims or sales pitches. It should be clear and concise, without using jargon or marketing speak.

People are more likely to skip content when it is made up of longer sentences (over 25 words) or longer words (9 letters or more). If possible, swap longer words or sentences for shorter ones, but avoid making the content overly simplistic – if only a longer word works, that's okay.

Make sure you use words your readers will understand. If your audience is external to UQ, they usually won't understand UQ processes, acronyms or references, so make sure to spell these out.

Avoid repetition on the page and across sites. Users should be referred to a single source of truth. If you are referring to information that isn't on your website, send users to the relevant website instead of duplicating information.

If you make any claims about UQ, back them up with facts. It's important that you:

  • provide current or recent information
  • provide accurate and correct information
  • use genuine testimonials.

Remember, if you don't have the resourcing to review or revise content frequently, it probably shouldn't be published in the first place.

Style

Style is how we decide to present our subject matter and content to our users.

The UQ style guide exists to help you to write consistent, useful web content. While content can vary depending on the website, we should aim to write in a similar style across all UQ sites.

For specific style choices, refer to the UQ style guide

Tone

Tone is where we express our attitude towards our users and towards our subject matter.

The tone for web content at UQ is informal but not overly casual. It shouldn't sound robotic.

You can use:

  • contractions (you'll, we're)
  • personal pronouns (you, your, we, our)
  • simple and direct words.

Keep the tone positive: we should tell readers what they can do, not what they can't. Even if you are dealing with challenging or negative subjects, be positive where possible.

This is a good example of keeping the tone positive:

Example: Entry into the program is competitive. Unfortunately, achieving the minimum entry requirements doesn't guarantee admission.

A bad example of tone is the following:

Example: Do not apply for this program unless you can meet the minimum entry requirements. Even if you meet the minimum entry requirements, this does not guarantee admission.

Address your readers

Address the reader as "you" where appropriate. This helps them to imagine themselves in relation to what you are writing. If you need to define who "you" is, do so at the beginning of the sentence.

Example: This page will help you, the student, to understand UQ and what our teaching involves.

If you're using a question and answer format, assume the reader is asking the question. Use "I".

Example:
Q: How do I get to St Lucia?
A: You can catch the bus, train or ferry.

When you are writing from the point of view of UQ, use "we" or "our". It makes us seem more friendly and approachable.

Best practice tips

  • Use plain English.
  • Keep your writing simple: keep sentences and words short, where possible.
  • Write as if you are speaking to the reader face-to-face. This will make your writing sound more natural.
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