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Content Guidelines for Web Page Development

Accuracy

All punctuation, grammar and spelling must be correct and information must be accurate and timely.

Applicable laws

Applicable laws protecting the rights of students (FERPA), patients (HIPAA) and owners of pictures (copyright) must be followed.

Single Sourcing

  • In the interest of accuracy of information, certain University-wide information must not be reproduced on individual pages but rather "single sourced" by linking to the official document.
  • The defined single sources are the Catalog, Schedule of Classes, three year calendar, financial aid information and cost of attendance. Catalog information includes program requirements and course descriptions.
  • In general, it is advisable to link to, rather than recreate, any information not developed specifically by the department owning the web site.

Writing for the Web

The majority of users scans web pages rather than reads word-for-word. To create effective pages, content writers must understand how to write for the web. Many university web pages contain too much text; be brief and succinct with explanations.

The first thing a user wants to see is the salient point and the supporting information should follow. The proper physical presentation, such as font, white space and bullets, is critical. UNC templates have been styled to allow for an effective font, spacing and white space.

User Focus

Organize sections and content according to users' needs, not by departmental organization or hierarchy. Try to think like a user and identify which items a user would logically want, even if it means grouping functions from different areas together.  

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) allows pages to be easily found via search engines such as Google and is an important element in student and employee recruitment. Many elements are involved in effective SEO, including writing, usability, HTML structure and proper meta information.

Web authors can assist in effective SEO by following guidelines included on the Web Support site.  

Clear Words

Words must be clear to the target audience. Users will likely have difficulty understanding vague, university-specific or generalized links or headings, but will find specific, common words easier to understand and follow.

 Jargon

Many university terms are familiar to designers, web authors and content writers, but not to users. If acronyms are used, make sure they are defined clearly in the page and use descriptive phrases to clarify references to processes, forms or offices that may not be easily recognized by users.

Tone

UNC uses a conversational tone of writing, especially for students. That means the tense is second person (“you” vs “the student”). Sentences should be short and clear and contractions (“can’t” vs “cannot”) can be used. 

Paragraphs

On the web one or two sentences can be equal to a paragraph. This is important for helping readers to scan your copy and means people won’t be put off when they see huge chunks of text on the screen. 

Subheadings 

This is an important way to help people scan the text and find what they’re looking for. Subheadings should clarify the different points addressed within your webpage and break up the text into manageable chunks. 

The correct use of heading tags is critical. It’s helpful both for your readers and for search engine optimization. Every page has one H1 and the next heading tag should be an H2. If that paragraph has multiple points, use an H3 subheading for them. A new topic area can begin with an H2 again. 

Never use headings just to style text. 

Bullet Points and Numbered Lists 

Bullets and lists are used for breaking up the text and making things easier for people to read. Bullet points add some variety to the page layout and make your copy really easy to scan. It’s also far better than breaking up lists with a lot of commas.

Consistent Navigation

The main, top level navigation list should contain the same links and be included on each page. Subsections can have navigation links specific to that section but those  links should also have consistent placement and words.

Consistent Link Styles

The UNC templates are consistent in the method used to indicate a clickable links. Do not use underline for any text wording that is not a link since it indicates a link on many web pages.

Proper Content and Layout of the Homepage

Users have come to expect certain information on the homepage, specifically news, events, calls to actions and updates to information. The most important information should be placed at the top of the content area. Do not use the mission statement as the homepage text.

List Length

Users can generally easily comprehend a list of about seven to nine items. Longer lists can be divided with headers or spaces. Bullets or numbers make lists easier to read. 

Standard Fonts

The UNC web templates are styled with a specific, web friendly font.

Page Length

Pages are becoming longer with current designs and it is important to use short paragraphs and clear subheadings to help the user understand the content. Other content structures, such as columns and tabs, can assist in organizing content into logical chunks.

Under Construction

Under construction messages or image signs may not be used. As pages are created, they can be added to the site and linked at that time.

Writing Style Guide 

UNC follows a specific writing style for promotional communications based on Associated Press style. For example, is a word capitalized, is there a hyphen, does it need abbreviated? Professional writing is part of web credibility. View the writing style guide. 

Web Style Guide

The Content Management System allows flexibility in how to structure content on a page. For example, content can be placed in two or three columns, a color call-out box or an accordion. The best practices on how to structure content can be found in the Web Style Guide.