Writing Tips

Evergreen uses specific style, tone, and ruleset for their materials. Follow this guide and you’ll fit right in.

Want to know more about visually styling content?

Visit the web team’s web-style library for a complete collection of the styles available and the snippets gallery for some more advanced modules.

Writing Style

The basics

  • Use simple, direct sentences.
  • Provide factual and content-rich information. Avoid anything that can be perceived as advertising copy or fluff.
  • Start a web page with the conclusion first, as well as a short summary of the remaining content, instead of leading up to the main point (as is typical in a paragraph).
  • Write in the active voice. For example, “The ability to jump-start their careers with an internship” becomes “Jumpstart your career with an internship.”
  • Review your site’s content regularly and update as necessary.

Use an appropriate tone

  • Refer to the college in the first person plural (when pronouns are used at all), such as “We know that nobody learns exactly the same way and there’s no place to learn exactly like Evergreen.”
  • Refer to the reader in the second person, as in “We think you’ll see that our difference not only sets us apart…”
  • Write for your audience—not for yourself.
  • If your content needs instructions or you have to explain it, there’s room for improvement. The length of your instructional text is almost always inversely proportionate to the usability of your product.

Divide text into small, easy-to-read chunks

  • Use section titles, headings, and sub-heads (h2, h3, h4, h5). They are signposts that help readers find content they are interested in and also help develop semantic structure for screen readers and search engines. The heading 1 (h1) tag should only be used once per page, and it is automatically included based on the title. Never add your own heading 1 tags to your content.
  • Present lists as bulleted items, not as prose. Avoid lists of more than seven items (if you have long lists think of ways to break them up logically).
  • Use clear section titles and liberally include headings and sub-headings where they help users to quickly find information.
  • Avoid ambiguity. Avoid incomplete teasers. Give your readers the information as soon and as succinctly as possible.

Spelling

  • Be sure to spell-check your content.
  • “Website” is one word.
  • Use US spelling throughout (as opposed to UK).

Abbreviations and acronyms

  • Avoid abbreviations, even for commonly abbreviated words. Abbreviations usually don't make any sense to users who are unfamiliar with the meaning. They also don’t make sense when they are read aloud by screen reading software (used by people with visual disabilities).
  • Spell out acronyms the first time they are used on a page—A Very Long Title (AVLT).
  • Refer to the college as The Evergreen State College or Evergreen, not TESC (It’s taken: Thomas Edison State College)

Structuring Your Document

  • An effective HTML page is one that is structured. Dave Raggett (of the World Wide Web Consortium) has posted some tips for Getting Started with HTML.

Formatting

  • Content on Evergreen web pages is aligned to the left (by default, including headers, paragraphs and images).
  • Don’t indent text manually. Use the appropriate element (for example, a blockquote).

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use bold to highlight words as phrases when appropriate.
  • Do not use underlines in file or folder names.
  • Do not use all caps. This is the online equivalent of SHOUTING.
  • Do not underline. Underlining words suggests a hyperlink.
  • Do not rely on variations of font size or color. Font size and color are all defined by the college’s core design.
  • Do not combine text styles (that is, do not use bold italics, or, heading classes combined with bold). It’s just tacky.

Dealing With Links

  • Link in context. Avoid self-referential terms like “Click here” and “follow this link.”
    • An example of linking in context is: "We have put together a web development checklist to help you develop an effective web presence."
  • The name of the page file, page title, left nav link name, and page heading should be consistent when possible. (i.e. student-support.htm, Student Support Services, Student Support Services)
  • Do not use “return to top“ or “top” links.
  • Whenever a link takes the visitor to a Word Document or PDF file, make that clear in the link name. For example: 10-Year Capital Plan (Word) or IT Strategic Plan (PDF). If there’s both, it should look like (Word | PDF).