This page provides guidance on creating web content that is user friendly and accessible.
If you are creating content for the University of Leeds website, Shorthand and Medium platforms, which are managed by the Digital Communications content team, please read the Web content standards page first.
Writing for the web is different to creating other forms of copy. Our readers are usually trying to complete a task. As copywriters, it’s our job to make this a quick and easy process for our users. Even if your audience are subject experts, research shows readers prefer web content that uses plain language and is easy to read.
You must always follow digital accessibility guidance as the University is required by law to make sure its web content meets accessibility standards.
Start with research
This will help you define the purpose, scope and content of your web pages:
- Start with your user needs. What do they need to know or do? To get an accurate picture, try to use a few methods including:
- asking your audiences what they need
- online research on social media or chat forums used by your audience
- looking at web content produced by peers or competitors
- looking at behaviour on search engines such as Google. For example, search for a question you think your users might ask and look at the “People also ask” and “Related search” sections to see what other questions users are asking on that topic. If a trusted source is already answering this question effectively on another website, you might be better to link to it instead of creating similar copy which will need to be maintained.
- Bring this research together by creating user stories and personas. These are profiles of typical users whose aims and needs reflect your audiences, what they need to do, and why. This will help you explore the top tasks for your audience and focus your efforts on producing relatable content that meet those needs. Read about creating user stories and personas.
- What existing content have you got? Carry out an audit of your content. Is it relevant and current?
Reading on the web is different to print. It is slower, more tiring and readers tend to have a shorter attention span. Online readers use headings, bullets and links to scan webpages and spend more time at the top and left of pages. Read a Medium article about how readers scan webpages for more information.
We still write with desktop in mind because this is our largest audience, but we increasingly need to cater for mobile users.
- Your most important information should sit at the top of the page. Think of an inverted pyramid: the who, what, when, where and why, belong at the top of the story.
- Chunk up your text to make the page easier to read. You can do this with:
- Short paragraphs – the BBC news website only has one sentence per paragraph.
- Meaningful page titles and headings. Make sure the main page title describes the page content and distinguishes it from other pages. Use subheadings to break copy into sections with clear titles. Keep them short to benefit mobile users. What words would people type into Google to find your information? Use tools like Google Trends or the keyword planner to help inform the language you use on your page.
- Formatting – bullet lists work well. Tables don’t work well for large amounts of text or mobile users.
- Structuring sentences so the important information is at the start.
- Providing information in one page that scrolls rather than lots of pages that users need to click between.
Language and writing tips
- Follow the University style guide.
- Lead with the benefit to the user rather than the feature. For example, this sentence talks about the benefit to the user from doing a final project, rather than simply stating that the project exists as a feature of the course: “You will develop advanced research skills through your dissertation or final project and become a confident, articulate and highly employable graduate.”
- Write in the first person plural or the second person, for example: we (the University), you (the reader). It’s a direct, professional but friendly tone and makes the user feel more connected to the content. You’re talking to them rather than about them.
- Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. We might know what they mean but does the audience? If you have to use an acronym, write it out in full and put the acronym after in brackets.
- Avoid too many adjectives and adverbs – write in plain English. Online tools such as the free Hemingway App can help you check your copy.
- Avoid cliché and marketese. “World-leading” is an overused phrase. Is it really “unique”? Back up your claims with evidence.
- Write in sentence case, only using capitals for the first letter of the first word of a sentence and proper names. It’s tiring to read copy containing lots of capital letters.
- Use the active voice. eg "The University is transforming education." Not: "Education is being transformed by the University." It’s a more direct way of writing, and sets a positive and friendly tone.
Evaluate your content
Conduct regular reviews of your content to make sure it is still serving your audience’s needs. Talk to your audience. Use Google Analytics to get insights into how your content is being used.
With your University log-in you can access our Image Library, where you’ll find high-quality images that, unless otherwise stated, you can use for your website.
If you need to commission new photography, read about our photography framework.
- commission relevant photography that features Leeds’ facilities and/or people. Authentic images of real people are much more engaging than stock photography
- reflect our diverse community
- tell your photographer the pictures will be used online and show them examples
- include relevant research images but check their use and caption them
- ensure you have written permission from any individuals who are identifiable
- make your image is accessible with alternative text
- gain permission to use any third-party images and credit the copyright owner
- ensure the images are in focus and of appropriate quality
- optimise all images to the correct size (dimensions), format (eg JPG) and compression as specified by your content management system.
- using stock shots if University of Leeds images are available
- using images only for decorative purposes, as it can frustrate readers and slow page loading time
- reusing images which have been used prominently elsewhere
- adding images to pages where they are not needed to enhance the content. For example, a page that talks the user through a process does not need an image, whereas a case study about a research project may benefit from a relevant image.
- including information in images that isn’t available in the main copy. A detailed infographic with exclusive content is not fully accessible for screen reading software and may appear too small for sighted users.
Videos and animations
Videos are most often accessed through social media, or on bespoke video hosting platforms such as YouTube. Video can be embedded into a website, however, it should only be added to a webpage if it adds value to the user.
Video slows page loading speed and uses more mobile data, so avoid adding more than one to page.
- keep video short and focused
- include useful content for the viewer and make it clear what they will get from the video
- use the medium to show something which can’t be handled well in text or images
- consider the context in which the video appears
- think about how else you will promote or use video assets
- use a framework supplier
- add subtitles for accessibility.
- plain talking head clips, analytics show they don’t attract many views or engagement.