Helpful best practices when writing and editing copy.
General Style Guidelines
This Communications Style Guide represents a set of best practices that we have found to be helpful when writing and editing copy. Information and usage were taken from a variety of sources, including the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, which is the guide that the Office of Communications and Marketing follows. The most important thing is to be consistent.
Web/Social Media Style Guidelines
Web Reading Habits
People tend to skim when reading copy online, as opposed to reading line-for-line and word-for-word, as they might with a printed piece. Readers also tend to skip from one web page to another and from one link to another, rather than reading a page from top to bottom.
Writing for the Web
Many of these general guidelines apply to printed copy as well, but they are perhaps even more important for writing for the web:
- Make copy easy to scan. Use subheads, lists, and bullet points to break up long copy blocks. But please note: Whatever you’re using to delineate links should not also be used in other ways. For example, if your links are going to be shown with underlines, do not use underlines for emphasis on any non-link content.
- Write short paragraphs and sentences. Avoid complex sentence structures and jargon. Use the active voice when possible.
- People often perceive the web as a more personal and informal medium than print. Speak directly to the reader, where appropriate.
URLs and E-mail Addresses
Do not add punctuation to an email address or URL. However, if a sentence ends with an email address or URL, do punctuate it as you normally would. It is best not to break a URL across two lines. However, if a URL won’t fit on one line, break it after a forward slash or before a period. Do not hyphenate words within URLs, even if they make for awkward line breaks.
Leave off the http:// at the beginning and forward slashes at the end of URLs. Most browsers automatically insert these for you. An exception: a URL that starts with something other than www. The http:// prefix might be necessary in certain electronic communications, such as html emails.
Common web/social media terminology
- Mashup – a combination of two or more pieces of content or media to create something new
- Microsite – a tightly focused group of web pages dedicated to a single topic
- Tag – to identify someone or something in a post someone else is publishing
- Handle – a username on Twitter
- Hashtag – the use of the # sign on Twitter to convey a specific subject or search term
- Retweet – the practice or forwarding a message or link that someone else sends to your followers
- Trending – a topic getting a lot of attention
- Mention – an @mention tags an account in a tweet someone else is publishing
- Reply – an @reply is a common technique to speak to other people directly
- Check-in – an action associated with location-based social networking tools
- Link shortener – tools that allow users to shorten a longer URL to make it easier to share. The university has a branded link shortener available for social sharing. Contact our office at 313-593-5140 for more information and to obtain access.