University Communicators Guide

Web Writing Guide


Whether perusing websites, email newsletters, or social media, online readers have different behaviors and expectations that print readers.

Online readers

  • Skim.
    • They scan webpages for lists, headings, keywords, links.
    • We have only seconds to connect with them.
  • Visit with a purpose.
    • They come to our sites to complete a task.
  • Have set expectations.
    • They have a sense of where information will be on a web page.
    • They expect their needs will be met.
  • Often visit on mobile devices.

With this in mind, we want to make sure our writing is concise, clear, compelling, and complemented by page design.


Since web readers typically scan for content, using short, digestible blocks of text will help them find what they need as soon as possible.

  • Write clear, short page titles, headlines, and subheads. Make sure they relate directly to your content.
  • Use short sentences of 5 to 10 words.
    • Break complex sentences into shorter, simpler ones.
  •  Write short paragraphs.
    • One-sentence paragraphs are OK. The first sentence can often stand alone.
    • Put keywords towards the top of the paragraph.
  • Break up text.
    • Into lists using bullets or numbers
    • With visuals such as graphics or photos
    • Into sections using paragraph breaks or subheads


Your writing should help users navigate your page and easily find information, not get in the way.

  • Use headings and subheads.
    • Subheads should flow from the primary heading and use appropriate heading tags (see Graphic Standards for Web).
      • As a default, H1s should be title case (cap all words except prepositions unless they have 4 or more letters), H2s and below should be sentence case (first word and proper nouns get caps). However, consistency is most important, so there may be cases when this rule should be adapted to fit the content.
    • Use anchor tags on very long pages (like on this page where you can click topics at the top of the page and jump to that section).
  • Links should be clear and accessible.
    • Users should know where a link is going. 
    • Link text should be specific and descriptive. Use title of page or the resource as your link text.
    • Links pointing to the following file types are automatically labelled with a file extension [e.g. Application Form (PDF)]: PDF, PNG, GIF, CSV, JPG/JPEG, DOC/DOCX, XLS/XLSX, PPT/PPTX, Google Doc, Google Sheet, Google Slide. Do not manually add the file extension to your link text.
    • Accessible links are written in a way that identifies what the user can expect when they click through. They should not include directionals such as "here," "below," or "above."
      • Not this: Register here. <—Includes directional
      • This: Register for the workshop. <—Clearly indicates the user will go to a registration page
      • Not this:Read more. <—Too generic. Must be unique to the story or page you're linking to.
      • This: Read more about our master's program. <—Link text indicates the page linked will describe the master's program
  • Web pages that provide specific university academic program information (requirements for majors, options, patterns, minors, or certificates) are required to use the official text of the academic program, as described in the current University Catalog. The best way to avoid the confusion is to link directly to the relevant catalog pages.
  • Keep your faculty/staff listings up to date by linking directly to the Campus Directory where possible.


Keep your readers engaged by writing in a way that is simple and easy to understand, rather than dressed up in the formalities of academic writing.

  • Avoid jargon
    • “We will optimize intuitive best practices in authentic, real-world scenarios.”
    • Use common words: “use” not “utilize”
  • Avoid a sales pitch
    • Stay away from superlative and lofty claims (“best,” “greatest,” “unique”) unless you can back them up with specific examples.
    • Inform about your accomplishments. Think of yourself as the reader—what would impress you? Can it be backed up with a link to more info?
      • Not this: Chico State has a tradition of excellence.
      • This: Chico State has been ranked a top-10 regional public University by U.S. News & World Report  for 20 years.
  • People like to make personal connections
    • Don’t be afraid to use “you” and “your.”
    • Include a name for phone & email contact whenever possible.

Complemented by Page Design

Visit the web support knowledge base and Web Services website for more resources on formatting your website.

General Tips

Follow these quick tips for a consistent website.

  • Make all email addresses links.
    • Highlight phone number, go to insert link, select external, then type in ""
  • Make all phone numbers links.
    • Highlight phone number, go to insert link, select external, then type in "tel:530-898-xxxx"
  • Avoid text-based images (see Accessibility section)
  • External links should open in new browser tab (Target=New Window)
  • The naming convention for Login buttons should be "XXXX Login"
  • Use ampersands on titles, headings, and link lists, but not in general text
  • Include last comma in a series, ie., birds, fish, and cats. However, don’t include a comma when using ampersands (like in a title), ie., Department of Birds, Fish & Cats
  • Use only one space following a period.
  • Remove curly quotes and apostrophes. Use straight quotes.
  • Spell out abbreviations and acronyms the first time you use them on each page—think of each page as being self-contained.
See the University Style Guide for additional style questions such as date and time format, capitalization, and more.