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Writing for the Westfield State University Website

User-Centered Content

Website users (including prospective students and their parents, current students, faculty and staff, and others) are looking for content that:

  • Is relevant to their immediate questions and tasks
  • Can be found in the places they’re looking
  • Explains how it benefits them
  • Is accurate and up-to-date
  • Tells a story with specific examples, details, and quantifiable data
  • Provides enough information to accomplish their goals, but not so much that the site becomes unwieldy and difficult to navigate

Message Architecture

When ordering content on a page, keep these structural rules of thumb in mind:

Primary Message

In a user's first 10 seconds, each page should communicate its key idea.

Secondary Messages

In two minutes, a page (or section) should address 3-5 more ideas that answer questions like:

  • How is (fill in the blank) better at Westfield?
  • How does (fill in the blank) help students?
  • What is the personality/culture of (fill in the blank)?

Messaging Guidelines

1. Develop a student perspective

Prioritize your students — prospective or current — because they’re the ones who use your site more than anyone else. Highlight your university’s programs and emphasize the things that bring students to Westfield State (affordability, location, class size, etc.)

2. Break it down or cut it out

Consider your text another way for users to navigate your site without the clutter. Blocks on blocks of text can be confusing and frustrating for your site users.

Narrowing down a message to its purest form is essential for modern website reading. Topics should be identified at the point of discussion in the site, and answered concisely.

3. Give context, localize

Define yourself at every turn: For pages that target external users, assume your audience has no idea who you are. Remind your audience what makes you a great public university, instead of trying to compete with private institutions’ messaging. Think about your place in the academic community and in the neighborhood, and who you want to be.

4. Friendly, accessible content in plain English

Internal terms, unfamiliar acronyms, and technical language can alienate readers. It should be easy to understand, but not patronizing. Show them respect with clear, concise and appropriately casual language — just like if you were having a conversation.

Language

Good web content communicates in a consistent tone and style.

Tone

Your tone and voice are what distinguish you from other organizations. The tone of your web content should be informative, open and approachable. Users come to your site with specific tasks in mind, and content buried in difficult, formal passages will only slow them down.

Keep in mind that tone will need to vary depending on what you are communicating and to whom. Content about why a prospective undergraduate should apply shouldn’t be as formal and direct as content explaining how to fill out a FAFSA request (but that shouldn’t be written in legalese, either). Think about your user’s context and why people would be reading this page, and go from there.

Style

Person

Use first-person plural (“we”) and speak directly to users (“you”) so your content will sound approachable instead of detached or impersonal.

Contractions

Use contractions for common phrases, "we don't" or "there's" or "it's."

Final comma for items in a series

When listing three or more items, Westfield State chooses not to use the final (Oxford) comma. Example:  The colors of the flag are red, white, and blue.

Avoid:

  • Jargon. Even insiders visiting your site will likely just skim, so keep language clear and concise.
  • Flashy marketing buzzwords, such as:
    • “a student-centered environment”
    • “our unique, innovative programs”
    • “world-class status”
  • Long words like “utilize” or “methodologies” (a simple “use” or “methods” will do).
  • Acronyms:  always spell out on first reference, and eliminate altogether when possible.

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