Guidelines for Web Writing

As you may or may not be aware, writing for the web is different than writing for print. From organization, style, and tone of voice to word choice and story length, web writing is a different medium. To engage your audience, you’ll want to check out these guidelines.

Nuts & Bolts

This is the stuff you have to include. Think of the nuts and bolts as your framework – they will hold your story together. When writing and submitting news stories, event coverage, or informational content for The Elm, please include the following:

  • Headline

  • Byline – who is the writer?

  • Who – provide complete degree, affiliation, and departmental information for the people or groups you reference or quote           

  • What – what is your article about?

  • When – when did the event, action, or project take place?

  • Where – where did/does the story take place?

  • Why – tell your readers why your article is relevant to the University community

  • How – how did the research, project, or partnership come about?

  • Quotations – provide quotations from people integrally involved in or experts on the topic of your story that are approved by the source

  • Photography – provide photos from your event or project, or of the subject(s) of your story       

  • Photo Captions – provide captions for all of the photos you submit

    • Captions give a short description of what’s happening in a photo, identify the people in a photo, or synthesize a thought or fact from your story

  • Photo Credits – provide the first and last names of the people who take your photos

  • URLs & email addresses – link web resources and contact persons you reference in the Word document you submit to The Elm

Polite, But Firm

You’re writing/creating web content because you want your audience to engage with your story, news, or information. Help your audience to interact, engage, or take action by following these suggestions.

  • Use headings and lists

    • Because readers scan web content, you should create a clear hierarchy of information using accurate headings and bulleted lists

    • Limit items in lists

      • Studies show that people can only reliably remember seven to 10 things at a time. By keeping your list short, you help your readers remember them.

  • Formatting

    • All page titles should be in Heading 1 – use Heading 1 only for the title

    • Use the other heading levels only once and in order: Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.

    • Do not use tables, except as image files

  • Text

    • Do not use ALL CAPS – all caps are distracting to your readers

    • Use bold type sparingly to highlight key phrases

      • Do not bold entire sentences or paragraphs

    • Do not underline text – readers will mistake it for a link

    • All text should be justified to the left

    • Do not use animated gifs or moving texts of any kind

  • Images

    • Only use images to which you have rights

  • Video

    • Always label the alt tag for images and provide captions and transcripts of audio content

    • Provide a description for video content

  • Be specific – use concrete terms

    • Concrete example: Members of UM Go Green and first-grade students at Southwest Baltimore Charter School planted apple and peach trees in the school’s front yard during Earth Week.

    • General example: The University community participates in a variety of community service initiatives.

  • Use active voice

    • Active: Perman directs the task force.

    • Passive: The task force is directed by Perman.

  • Don’t bury the main idea – get to the point

    • Your story's subject should be in the first paragraph

    • Readers have limited attention spans – demand their attention early

    • Focus on one idea per paragraph. Short, meaningful paragraphs are easier to read and keep your reader’s attention.

  • Be concise        

    • Avoid details that bog down your story

    • Keep your quotes short – one or two sentences

  • Check your facts          

    • Check the accuracy of all proper names and all numbers or percentages

  • Names (miscellaneous)

    • No courtesy titles (Dr., Ms., Mrs., Mr.), except in a direct quotation

      • For example: “Dr. Perman was an invaluable asset,” the student said.

    • Middle initials are reserved for deans and administrators

      • For example: Jay A. Perman, MD