Writing Style Guide

Content is key on your web site.A writing style guide will help inform how content is developed for a web site.

Clients will gladly exchange time for value and insight, so provide relevant, valuable, and usable content.You want to draw your reader in, help reader orient and convey information.People use the web to solve problems, and they expect the site to be worth the time it takes to find out if you can help.

Style Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines when composing your content:

  • Refer to the company in the first person
  • Refer to the reader in the second person
  • Use direct, simple sentences
  • Divide the text into easy-to-read chunks
  • Factual and content-rich information
  • Main themes at top of each page
  • Lists as bulleted items not prose
  • Clear section titles, liberally use headings (help user find info)
  • Avoid ambiguity
  • Use straight quotes
  • "Web site" is two words

The most important thing to remember is:

Be concise, use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.Short sentences: average 12 words. Short paragraphs: average three sentences (36 words long)

Why is Content So Important?

Your web site is geared towards your clients so create client focused content. Write your content to help people navigate the site: make steps clear, state what options are available. Focus on what the client wants first and then tell them about your qualifications.

  • Avoid jargon and buzzwords.
  • Make your pages load quickly and avoid gimmicks.Flash introductions and pop-up windows waste your visitor's time.
  • Make it easy, visitors should be able to navigate your site and locate information easily.
  • Most people scan, so make the pages easy to read.
  • Keep content current, At a minimum, refresh content once a month.
  • Your site should convey your visual identity.The content, appearance, and usability of your site reflects your style and shows your competence as a professional.Show them how you treat clients.Demonstrate how your company makes a difference to the client.Tell your story, describe your mission, list your clients, and educate.
  • Communicate with personality.Use your site to give visitors a glimpse of the personality and culture of your practice.

How to Check Reading Level

If you want to check the reading level of a document, you can do that using the spelling and grammar checker in Microsoft Word (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/test-your-document-s-readability-HP010148506.aspx). You can also configure the Advanced Search settings (http://www.google.com/advanced_search) in Google to show the reading level for documents in the search results.

Writing Content for your Web site

Meaningful content on your web site helps visitors make descisions or have fun. Determining what meaningful content is for your web site requires brainstorming and planning. Talk to your visitors, ask questions, look at competitors' web sites.

Your web site is more than just an advertisment, let people know who you are. Tell them what you do, why you do it, and show them how you do it. Testimonials of what others think of what you are doing.

In addition, add media - sound, motion, animation, or video. Make the experience as rich and engaging as possible. But always remember to consider mobile and keep the content light.

Different types of content help meet the different goals of your audience. Use them to add rich content to your site. Getting to know your audience well, so the content you provide hits the mark.

Writing Guidelines Checklist


  • The content of the web site provides value to the user.
  • The writing supports the reader’s task.
  • The user is not required to read or navigate through irrelevant material to reach relevant material.
  • The text includes a call to action.
  • The reader interacts with the text as much as possible.
  • The information is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
  • The information will be easy to maintain.
  • Items that need to be regularly updated have been documented.


  • The text is comprehensible and targeted at the right reading level.
  • Sentences are short, direct, concrete, and active.
  • New information is grounded in known information.
  • Text is in lay language, avoiding jargon, insider references, and
  • obscure humor.


  • The typeface is legible and the font size is sufficient.
  • Italics are avoided except at large sizes.
  • Boldface and all caps are only used for short pieces of text. (Boldface is
  • preferred over all caps.)
  • Text has sufficient contrast with the background color and is not placed
  • over a conflicting pattern.


  • Emphasis is provided with appropriate headings, lead-ins, and pull quotes.
  • Opening sentences and paragraphs summarize the content.
  • Text is short, simple, and concise.
  • Text is specific and objective.
  • Text is broken into useful chunks and bulleted


  • Page titles provide useful orienting clues.
  • Headings match the reader’s goals.
  • Readers know where they are and what each page is about.


  • The text is divided between pages based on user tasks (i.e., pages are divided so users can skip portions irrelevant to them).
  • If scrolling is required, the user has appropriate cues within the text that more material is present, and horizontal rules are avoided.
  • Pages are self-explanatory: each page stands on its own.


  • Fundamentals are sound: grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Tone is natural and accessible.
  • Style is consistent.
  • Terminology is unambiguous.
  • Active sentences are used.


  • Static text is never blue or underlined.
  • Text links are left in the default color.
  • Different types of links are distinguished graphically (e.g., audio clips
  • vs. video clips).
  • Link text is descriptive and specific.http://www.w3.org/QA/Tips/noClickHere
  • Email links explicitly show the email address.
  • Links don’t cross punctuation or line breaks.


  • The order of steps through the form is clear.
  • Submit buttons are clearly labeled with descriptive text.
  • Reset buttons are avoided.
  • Required fields are clearly labeled.


  • Metatag description and keywords are provided for each page.
  • Non-body text is specific and consistent: titles, ALT text, captions,
  • headings, and buttons.

Writing for Screen Readers

  • Text is concise.
  • The top of the page contains meaningful, page-specific information.
  • Link names are self-explanatory.


  • The layout does not depend on a specific typeface or font size.
  • The specified typeface works well on all platforms.
  • The default font size of the browser is used.
  • Semantic tags, rather than format tags, are used wherever possible.
  • Text aligns with graphics on the page and with other text blocks.
  • All centered text on the page is centered around one axis of symmetry.
  • Related text doesn’t appear in multiple columns.
  • Headings are closer to their body text than to other text on the screen.

Intellectual Property

  • The copyright notice is present and in the correct format.
  • Trademarks and service marks follow corporate standards.
  • Company branding is strictly adhered to.
  • No information is confidential or sensitive.


For each of the following, specify the standards this site will follow:

  • Person: [1] 1st and 2nd person (recommended), or [1] 3rd person
  • Commas before the last item in a list:

[1] “A, B, and C” (preferred), or [1] “A, B and C”

  • Punctuation within quotes: [1] traditional punctuation (“text,”), or [1] logical punctuation (“text”,) (preferred)
  • Header alignment: [1] left, [1] center, or [1] right
  • Paragraph format: [1] double-space between paragraphs, or indented opening of paragraphs
  • Common spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization conventions, e.g., Internet or [1] internet, [1] web site or [1] website, [1] email or [1] e-mail
  • Preferred file format for text files (e.g., plain text, RTF, Word, HTML)
  • Preferred file format for figures (e.g., EPS, Photoshop, TIFF, PICT, BMP, gif, jpeg)

This page contains information I gathered and thought were very useful. See more notes on programming.