Website style guide - A
On this page:
- Abbreviations and acronyms
- Active voice
- Addressing website visitors
- Alternative (alt) text
Always assume your audience is not familiar with your website or subject matter.
Abbreviations and acronyms may be used by your colleagues, but they should be avoided when writing content for external website visitors.
For longer group or department names that are repeated throughout your website, it may be appropriate to use acronyms if the name is spelt out in the first instance (or the second if the first instance is the page title) on any given page.
Remember that a visitor is likely to view a page independently (for example, from a search engine), so you should assume they haven’t seen any other pages on your site. With this in mind, do not confront them with exclusive language, including abbreviations.
This is a very broad topic and is considered throughout this guide, in topics including headers, alt (alternative) image text, link text and using the editor to create well-structured pages.
Keep accessibility in mind when creating and editing content.
Accordions can be used to contain large amounts of content, but they should be used sparingly and assessed on a case-by-case basis. Accordions are also less accessible for assistive technology users.
Think about what content will be left on the page afterwards - if there’s very little else, it’s best to keep it on the page. Ideally, we shouldn’t try to ‘hide’ content. Avoid using accordions for FAQs.
You should write in the active voice, which is more direct, conversational and engaging than the passive voice. This will help you write concise and clear content. For example:
Passive: Exams are taken by students in January and June.
Active: Students sit exams in January and June.
Passive: The students were informed that the seminar had been cancelled.
Active: The tutor informed students that the seminar had been cancelled.
Passive: Students' scientific knowledge and analytical skills are developed on the course.
Active: We'll help you develop your scientific knowledge and analytical skills or The course develops your scientific knowledge and analytical skills
There are times where the passive voice is appropriate, but in general using the active voice in your writing is preferable.
Address visitors as ‘you’ where possible. “You can contact the department by phone and email” or “View your timetable”, for example.
Writing appropriate alternative text when you upload an image helps make the website more accessible for people using screen readers or if images fail to load.
What you write here depends on the type of image and the purpose it serves:
- use plain language and keep it concise
- only describe what is significant to the understanding of the image and its meaning - think about how much meaning your alt text adds to the page. For example, 'Girl in red t-shirt in lecture theatre using Mac computer' gives too much detail
- never start it with ‘A picture of…’ or ‘Image of…’
- if the image is only for decorative purposes, only use one or two words
- don’t just copy what you have written for the image name
- avoid abbreviations which only an internal audience will understand, for example MBB, as screenreaders may read these as one word and not spell out the individual letters
- complex images require individual consideration. One solution is to provide the same resource in a more accessible format - for example, provide a data table to supplement a complicated graph image
An anchor allows you to provide a link to content further down on the same page.
Anchors should be used on content-heavy pages. Include a menu at the top of the page titled ‘On this page’ linking to the headings on the page to aid skim reading.
Use anchors on pages with between three and eight headings.
- Two anchors would only be necessary if the headings contain a lot of content so the second heading is far down the page - if this is the case, consider splitting the content into more headings, or onto different pages.
- More than eight looks cluttered, and may indicate there is too much content for one page.
Separate sections of a page with horizontal lines.
After identifying your main audience (eg current and prospective students), list the different groups and individuals that make up the rest of your visitors, and ensure you content caters for their top tasks.
Engage with your audience using keywords that they are familiar with and try to make your copy flow like a conversation, by addressing them directly.
- “You can contact us by phone and email.”
- “Your time at university is important to us.”
If you have any questions or comments about this guide, contact us.
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