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Key Web Writing Principles for Higher Education

The premise here is simple: no matter how easy you make it for people to find important content on your website, if the content presentation style does not make it easy for people to scan a page in 5 seconds or less when the page opens, too many will leave the page. Scannability is critical.

Key points covered here include the use of sub-heads and bullet points, sentence and paragraph length, font size, and language. Examples for higher education websites illustrate best and the not-so-best practices.

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Key Web Writing Principles for Higher Education

  1. 1. #AIwebwriting KEY WEB WRITING PRINCIPLES FOR HIGHER EDUCATION©ROBERT E. JOHNSON, PH.D. 2016 Bob Johnson, Ph.D. Academic Impressions: Planning for a Higher Ed Website Redesign Cincinnati, OH: February 28 – March 2 Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 1
  2. 2. #AIwebwriting 6 eternal truths, mobile or large screen… • People are impatient • People are impatient • People are impatient • People are impatient • People are impatient • People are impatient Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 2
  3. 3. #AIwebwriting A potential students speaks… • "If I had to change one thing it would probably be size of the paragraphs, when I clicked to go to certain pages there were paragraphs that were so long and tedious just kind of dragging on the description of the school which made me lose interest because I got bored." Response from one high school student in a January 2016 CCI survey asking “If you could change one thing about our website, what would you change and why?” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 3
  4. 4. #AIwebwriting 5 BASIC PRINCIPLES TO START… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 4
  5. 5. #AIwebwriting 1. Dense content is not web- friendly… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 5 16 lines!
  6. 6. #AIwebwriting 2. Extreme claims are not credible… (Names changed to protect the guilty) • “For more than 60 years, XYZ University has maintained a prestigious reputation for the quality of its engineering program. Today, the XYZ University engineering degree remains the ‘gold standard’ of excellence in engineering education. Students graduating with our degree will enter the marketplace armed with skills that are backed by the XYZ University heritage of unmatched quality in the academic preparation of engineering professionals.” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 6
  7. 7. #AIwebwriting 3. Reading levels are best kept low… of Cambridge Research Grade 10 Reading Level Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 7
  8. 8. #AIwebwriting 4. Brevity is best… • “Twitter forces you to be concise.” • “Twitter forces you to exercise your vocabulary.” • “Twitter forces you to improve your editing skills.” • Jennifer Blanchard, • Use the same skills for Facebook entries Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 8
  9. 9. #AIwebwriting 5. “You” is a great web word… • Write like this… • “Invest in yourself and your success.” • 8 times… • Use of “you” or “your” on this page after the first heading. • Abolish… • “Applicants must…” language. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 9
  10. 10. #AIwebwriting SCANNABILITY IS MOST IMPORTANT… …if people can’t scan your content they will not read it. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 10
  11. 11. #AIwebwriting THE GOLDEN RULE… <5 seconds to connect in a scan as a page opens. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 11
  12. 12. #AIwebwriting Eliminate dense text blocks… • Short paragraphs… 50 words or less • One-sentence paragraph is OK • Short sentences… 5 to 10 words • Subheads… • Active words, not labels, related to page heading • Bullet points • Line spacing Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 12
  13. 13. #AIwebwriting LONG BLOCKS OF DENSE TEXT KILL SCANNABILITY You can’t force people to read online… If visitors can’t scan a page, few will stay. 13Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
  14. 14. #AIwebwriting 11-line “Unique Residency…” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 14
  15. 15. #AIwebwriting “Residency…” in 2 bullet points… Good original use of the “you” word • 2 Unique Residency Experiences • Two of the defining components of the Penn State iMBA are the Term 3 and Term 8 residencies. • In the Term 3 residency, you will study a prominent U.S. firm by spending a week on-site, analyzing their organizational structure and strategy. • In the Term 8 residency, you will participate in a team business simulation held at Penn State University Park in State College, Pennsylvania. • These residency experiences put you in consulting and decision- making roles, allowing you to use the skills and tools you have developed in the program to find solutions to real business problems. • At the conclusion of the Term 8 residency, you will have the opportunity to walk at commencement with the other Penn State master’s and doctoral candidates. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 15
  16. 16. #AIwebwriting 10-line “Program Highlights”… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 16
  17. 17. #AIwebwriting “Program Highlights” in 5 bullet points… And change “students” to “you”• The BS in Elementary Education is a Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) approved program that culminates with both Reading and ESOL endorsement. • The program includes courses in teaching students with English as a second language, students with exceptionalities, reading competency, classroom management, assessment, and integrated approaches to teaching methodologies at the elementary school level. • Students will learn to facilitate lessons that integrate math and science, health, music and movement, as well as literature, fine arts, language arts, and social sciences. • Field experience requirements are progressive in nature, building upon previous semester experiences. • Students will observe teachers in the field, teach lessons through the practicum courses, and complete a full-time teaching internship in their final semester. Courses are offered for full-time and part-time students, with blended and online courses where applicable. • Students will complete one upper division literacy course (3 credit hours) taught by Florida Gulf Coast University faculty. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 17
  18. 18. #AIwebwriting FONT SIZE? NO SQUINTING! 10 point or 12 point… Fonts are different at same sizes… (Verdana) Fonts are different at same sizes (Arial) Fonts are different at same sizes (Calibri) 18Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
  19. 19. #AIwebwriting Don’t make them squint… ents Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 19
  20. 20. #AIwebwriting No squinting at Mizzou Grad School… requirements/
  21. 21. #AIwebwriting BLACK TEXT ON WHITE STILL WORKS BEST… Black text on white (or very light) background is best… Avoid low contrast between text and background whatever the color combination. 21Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
  22. 22. #AIwebwriting Low-contrast text is a killer… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 22
  23. 23. #AIwebwriting SCANNABILITY EXAMPLES… … and a video caveat. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 23
  24. 24. #AIwebwriting Easy to scan key numbers… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 24
  25. 25. #AIwebwriting Easy to scan program choices… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC... @highedmarketing 25
  26. 26. #AIwebwriting Easy to scan “Admissions” links… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 26
  27. 27. #AIwebwriting Easy to scan annual report, w/ video… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 27
  28. 28. #AIwebwriting Video hides message engagement… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 28
  29. 29. #AIwebwriting TIPS FROM JOURNALISM & DIRECT MARKETING Brief… Clear… Compelling… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 29
  30. 30. #AIwebwriting Your website is not for great literature… Moby Dick on the web“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” I must go to sea when: – I'm depressed or melancholy. – I stop in front of coffin warehouses. – I follow funerals. – I have a powerful urge to knock people's hats off. Continue the adventure here. Thanks to Kathy Henning, Communications Specialist, Seattle Pacific University Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 30
  31. 31. #AIwebwriting Simple words help people connect… • Newspaper copy words… • “walk”… not “ambulate” • “confuse”… not “discombobulate” • “beat around the bush”… not “prevaricate” • “view”… not “purview” • “glaring”… not “egregious” • “wise” or “smart”… not “judicious” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 31
  32. 32. #AIwebwriting “Carewords” to engage people… UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School research • Words people cared about… Top 25% • Advance your career • Balancing work, home, and school • Career advancement • Cost • Best school possible • Prestigious, well- recognized degree • Words that didn’t rank high… Low 25% • Accessible faculty • Experience of faculty • Corporate sponsorship • Shaping leaders • Class diversity (industry or experience) • Format of program Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 32
  33. 33. #AIwebwriting No need for frou-frou speed bumps… • “Stanford University, located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, is one of the world's leading teaching and research universities. Since its opening in 1891, Stanford has been dedicated to finding solutions to big challenges and to preparing students for leadership in a complex world.” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 33
  34. 34. #AIwebwriting Strong first sentence stands out… •“ReStart is the academic forgiveness policy of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.” Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 34
  35. 35. #AIwebwriting Scrolling in moderation…
  36. 36. #AIwebwriting Mobile style points… • Importance of the first impression • Headings and first sentences. • Ability to scan, especially from a smartphone. • Simple writing style is even more important. • Short sentences • Short paragraphs • Informal, personal, friendly. • Plenty of white space, as always. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 36
  37. 37. #AIwebwriting Best editorial decision for mobile… • Start with immediately visible content words • Content words are navigation points • Don’t let graphics prevent content scans Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 37
  38. 38. #AIwebwriting WRAPPING UP… K.I.S.S Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC... @highedmarketing 38
  39. 39. #AIwebwriting The 5 most important pieces… • Identify the top tasks visitors want to complete. • Different audiences have different tasks. • Reduce excessive content plaguing most websites. • Make sure that content is scannable… you have 5 seconds or less. • Short words, sentences, paragraphs. • Subheads, bullet points, links. • Use language that people visiting a site understand & care about. • Be careful in the use of photos and video. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC... @highedmarketing 39
  40. 40. #AIwebwriting THANKS FOR BEING HERE IN CINCINNATI! Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (248.766.6425) Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 40
  41. 41. #AIwebwriting RESEARCH & HIGHER ED RESOURCES… Research sources… Higher education web writing guides. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 41
  42. 42. #AIwebwriting Jakob Nielsen on web writing…
  43. 43. #AIwebwriting Gerry McGovern on web writing…
  44. 44. #AIwebwriting If you only read one book…
  45. 45. #AIwebwriting Usability.Gov… Writing sections… With research strength… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 45
  46. 46. #AIwebwriting Test your website for reading level… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 46
  47. 47. #AIwebwriting Test your website for mobile… hts/
  48. 48. #AIwebwriting Dalhousie University… b.html Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 48
  49. 49. #AIwebwriting New York University… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 49
  50. 50. #AIwebwriting Hampshire College… style-guide Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 50
  51. 51. #AIwebwriting NEW EXAMPLES… Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC 51