Writing for the web guidelines

Last updated May 2019

Scope

These guidelines apply to public web content, including social media, website content, online portals, and to content produced both by the Digital team and content creators across the University.

Excepted from these guidelines are academic publications, formal university documents (such as course specifications) and legal information, which have different requirements.

Content is key to the University’s digital experience. Writing for the web has particular challenges and constraints. Web content needs to be easy to skim and digest, and these guidelines are designed to help ensure quality and consistency.

General guidelines

  • Keep sentences short, ideally a maximum of 25 words
  • Use active rather than passive verbs (e.g. “researchers discovered…” rather than “it was discovered by researchers…”)
  • Use words like ‘we’ and ‘you’ rather than ‘the University’ or ‘the student’
  • Avoid jargon
  • Explain terms that would be unfamiliar to the reader
  • Use clear headings and subheadings that guide the reader through the text
  • Use bullet-pointed lists

Tone of voice

We are caring, trustworthy and knowledgeable. On our digital channels, we should communicate our academic expertise in ways that are clear and accessible to broad audiences, rather than in a formal, academic register.

Caring – we empathise with our audience. Are they nervous, excited, confused or delighted? Put yourself in the shoes of the people you are writing for, and show them respect and kindness.

Trustworthy – we are honest and accurate in what we say. We don’t exaggerate claims about the University beyond what we can back up with facts.

Knowledgeable – we are an institution dedicated to the pursuit of truth and knowledge. We share our expertise, and ensure that the information we provide is clear and rigorous.

We use clear and simple language so that everyone can understand us. We make sure content is understandable to second language English speakers, or those with a cognitive disability such as dyslexia.

Page titles

  • Page titles appear in website navigation menus, browser tabs, search results and elsewhere.
  • Limit page titles to less than 60 characters
  • Use a title that is descriptive of the content and contains keywords that people are likely to search for
  • Make sure the title is unique on the website – for example, for a school or department specific contact page, use “Contact Admissions” (specific) rather than “Contact Us” (generic).

Headings

  • Mark up headings with Heading 1, Heading 2 etc (use Word styles if sending a document to us)
  • Use headings to provide a hierarchical structure
    • Heading 1 should be the page title. There should only be one H1
    • Heading 2s are main sections of the page, Heading 3 are subsections
    • You can have H3 to H6, but generally your page hierarchy shouldn’t be that complex; if it is it may be that you would be better splitting the content over multiple pages
  • Use keywords in headings, to make the page easy to skim and to help SEO

Links

Make links descriptive. Use the title of the destination page or similar text. This makes it clear to the user what the link leads to. It can also help search engines work out what the page is about, enhancing SEO.

Avoid using generic or non-descriptive text such as:

  • “Click here”
  • “Homepage”
  • “Learn more”
  • “Download”

If you are linking to a downloadable file, indicate the file format in brackets after the name, e.g. “Academic Regulations (PDF)”; “Scholarship application form (Word document)”

Avoid using the URL as the link. Long URLs are especially problematic on mobile since they are likely to overflow the width of the page. For example:

One exception is if you are talking about a website and linking to the homepage, it is acceptable to use the domain name as the link (without http:// or https://), e.g. You can apply online via UCAS at ucas.com.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips

One of the main ways people access our content is via search – primarily Google, but also the internal website search, Bing, DuckDuckGo and other search engines. To help people find and access our content easily, and to make our content more likely to appear highly in search results, it is important to bear SEO principles in mind:

  • Write firstly for your audience, not the search engine – create high-quality, useful content that answers an important question or meets an important need.
  • Identify the main topic of your content – what are the key words that describe the content?
  • Use your keywords naturally in the title, headings and text – don’t overstuff them though
  • Make sure your keywords reflect the language your audience use
    • Talk to current students or look on websites like The Student Room to see what terms and phrases they use and are familiar with.
    • Use Google Trends to compare the popularity of different phrases.
  • Target a unique set of keywords – if there is already content on the same subject targeting the same keywords, then the different pages will end up competing against each other in search results and reducing their rankings in Google.
  • Make sure that your main content is text (not in images or downloads) for accessibility (e.g. people using screen readers) and so the content is searchable.

Standard spellings

Where there are alternative spellings of a word we will use British English.

University name

The full organisational name is the University of Buckingham. The short organisational name is the University.

In sentences, “the University of Buckingham” must always be used, e.g. “The University of Buckingham is an amazing place to study”; “Study at the University of Buckingham” not “Study at University of Buckingham”.

Note that “the” should not be capitalised unless at the start at the sentence, i.e. not “Study at The University of Buckingham”.

University of Buckingham (without “the” at the start) is acceptable in contexts where space is limited, such as social media display names or online page titles.

For social media handles, hashtags and shortened URLs, UoB may be used as an abbreviation, e.g. twitter.com/UoB_Law, bit.ly/UoB_Freshers18, #uoblife.

Avoid using “UoB” in sentences except in very informal contexts – instead use “the University” for short.