The purpose of this document is to outline best practices for creating and modifying content on the web. As you make changes to your online content, be intentional and ensure that your messaging supports at least one of our three objectives:

  • Recruit students
    • Educate prospective students about ACES and PERSUADE them to apply and ultimately commit
  • Recruit talented faculty
    • Showcase the work our current faculty and students are doing in an easy-to-understand, yet poised and sophisticated manner
  • Raise money from donors
    • Showcase what the college and departments are doing; express gratitude for the community support received; and demonstrate that our work and efforts will advance with the continued support of community stakeholders

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in this document, check the Public Affairs Writing Style Guide for additional information.

You can find copywriting and branding tips on the University of Illinois Brand Voice at the Office of Strategic Marketing & Branding website.
 

Formatting Guidelines

Abbreviations

  • Always spell out undergraduate and graduate (never grad/undergrad)

Acronyms

  • Department name acronyms are fine to use

Numbers

  • For numbers in the thousands or greater, use a comma: $5,000
  • Hyphenate phone numbers: 217-123-4567

Case

  • Buttons are sentence case (capitalize first word and proper nouns only): Learn more
  • Headlines are title case (capitalize like you would a typical title): Learn More (h1-h6)
  • Format as: myIllini account
  • Academic Degrees:
    • Use initial capitals for the names of academic degrees. Example: Bachelor of Arts in Dance. Use lowercase if the use is generic (bachelor’s degree in dance). Use periods in abbreviations. Examples: B.A., M.S., Ph.D., but MBA (no periods).
      • Singular
        • master’s degree and bachelor’s degree (with apostrophe)
        • Master of Science in XYZ degree
      • Plural
        • master’s degrees
        • bachelor’s degrees
      • Department names
        • The College of ACES always treats full department names as proper nouns, but fields of study as common nouns.*
          • Examples of correct usage:
            • Welcome to the Department of Animal Sciences. 
            • This is an amazing time for animal sciences.
        • *ACES intentionally uses proper nouns for department names. For university guidelines, check the Public Affairs website.

Grammar

  • Contractions are fine and encourage a conversational tone

Professional designations

  • Faculty 

* ACES uses the word “faculty” without the word “members”  

  • Dr.

* ACES uses Dr. as a designation for faculty members that hold a Ph.D.

Pronouns

  • Binary pronouns**
    • The use of gendered pronouns and other descriptors, such as race and age, in alternative image descriptions is complicated and tricky. As with most things, the context of use matters. As a rule, avoid including descriptors of race, gender, and age unless those things are important for the usage context. In most instances, it will be sufficient to use words such as individual/person/people, doctor/patient, student/professor, etc., for a given image.

In general, use the following guidelines:

  • Is it relevant to the page context that an image shows someone who is African American, a woman or man, or the person's age?  If the answer is no, then avoid using these descriptors.
  • If you are using a stock photo, you can use the descriptors provided by the image creator.
  • If you are using an image of people you know, ask them their preferred descriptors if you are not certain--it is the only way to be sure that you are correct.
  • Above all, only use descriptors for race, gender, and age when it is relevant to the contextual use of the image.

**per Keith Hays, ADA coordinator at Office of Access and Equity

Punctuation

  • Single space after periods and colons
  • Use bold or italics to match preceding word
  • Use serial commas: Learn more, and more, and more.*
  • Hyphenate
    • non-students

*ACES intentionally uses serial commas. For university guidelines, check the Public Affairs website.

Web Writing

User Analysis

In planning to write content, it is important to consider your audience. 

Answer these questions:

  1. Who are you writing for?
  2. What do they want?

Gen Z priorities:

  • Making a difference/social responsibility
  • Concerned about the future of the environment and equality for all people
  • Human rights
  • Fiscally conservative
  • Authenticity and community-oriented attributes are crucial for gaining trust
  • Most ethnically diverse population
  • Want sustainable, ethical brands and products
  1. What do you, as an organization, want?
    • Recruit diverse student body
      1. Learn more
      2. Schedule a visit
      3. Apply
    • Recruit talented faculty
    • Raise money from donors

Marketing tips:

  • Be vocal about your brand values and ethical and sustainable practices, with opportunities for Gen Z to engage with your initiatives.
  • Storytelling must be authentic, informative, and engaging. Gen Z can see through staged material and thus feels it is false and ultimately not helping to build an affinity with the brand.

Readability

Quick Takeaways

You have 8 seconds to capture a user’s attention, and people only consume about 20% of your content. With these thoughts in mind:

  • Be succinct, specific, relevant, use short and sweet key points
  • Write at an 8th grade reading level or below
  • Aim for a Microsoft Word readability score of 70 or greater 
    • Tips to improve readability:
      • Use words with fewer syllables
      • Vary sentence length
  • Use Active voice
  • Keep sentences short and to the point, while also varying the length of sentences for contrast
  • Write for scannability
    • Make the first few words of paragraph relevant to what it covers
    • Split up long information into multiple pages or
    • Break up long blocks of text into shorter, digestible paragraphs
    • Utilize F pattern (readers scan from left to right and down the page)

Voice for Web

  • Use relatable, conversational, everyday language (read it aloud – if someone wouldn’t say it, don’t write it)
  • Cut overly academic speak and anything that could be read as patronizing or pretentious
  • Try to provide specific examples rather than sweeping statements
  • Informal enough to grab the attention of busy, distracted 10th graders
  • Structure sentences to be about what the reader will experience in ACES and less about what we can offer
  • Don't use “click here” for links, rather, link the actual words
  • Talk to the reader directly, using “you” to address them
  • Use graphic elements like subheadings, pull quotes, strategically chosen bold text and captions to make your content more compelling and easier to skim
  • Rather than tell your audience what you want them to know, show them through stories and specific examples that bring your key points to life
  • Use facts, figures, quotes and other concrete examples to back up claims
  • Write with empathy to ensure that your audience and their goals are driving your message and delivery (what might they be thinking, feeling or wondering as they approach your marketing piece?)
  • Move from features to benefits (ie: don’t stop with what your unit or program offers, include why it matters to your audience – why they should care and how they will benefit)

“YOU” Statements

How would you then tie that overarching concept (“We recognize the power in you.”) to the goals and dreams of that particular student (“We can help you achieve those goals.”)

The next step is to get specific about how the university – and your unit in particular – can be a catalyst for that power. What resources and opportunities do the university and your unit offer that help our students achieve their goals and succeed? What are the strengths that set us apart from other universities? Start a list of ways we help students succeed, and keep adding to it throughout the year. 

Remember – prospective students want to know we have topnotch resources and that our work impacts the world. But, they also need to feel empowered. They need to know we care about them. 

ANSC examples

Original: The Department of Animal Sciences thrives on the contributions of our graduate students. In short, our science advances thanks to your curiosity, hard work, and drive to solve real-world problems. Come share your unique talents and background, and help us improve the lives of animals and people around the world.

Suggested Change: You belong in the Department of Animal Sciences. No matter what sparks your passion for animals, you’ll find a home in our close-knit community of like-minded students, faculty, and staff. Come share your talents with us.

  • “As a student, you’ll benefit from” as opposed to “our department offers”
  • Come share your unique talents and background, and help us improve the lives of animals and people around the world.

Further Copywriting Considerations (maybe more applicable for feature stories)

  • Be compelling – write a headline that grabs people’s attention, as well as Google’s. Play with/learn with this CoSchedule tool.
  • Be focused – always include in the first five paragraphs “the why” of the story. If you think the why morphed from when you received the assignment, make your case.
  • Be conversational – Write like you’re talking to a friend or family member. Use quotes, and let your narrative and observations in between quotes move the story forward.
  • Be creative – if your source’s quotes need some pepping up or reining in, do it. Stay true to their voice, though, and make sure you explain briefly when you ask them to review/approve. 
  • Be specific – if the person you’re writing about likes ice cream, find out what flavor and whether they prefer a cone or a bowl. These details prove you’re writing about real people with which readers can identify.
  • Be picky – you don’t have to use every piece of information someone shares. Use the best, most compelling or relatable parts.
  • Be varied – throw in a short sentence/paragraph or two among medium-length and longer sentences/paragraphs. 
  • Be direct – strive for 100 percent active voice and grade level of 10 or below to honor how people are busy and overloaded with information 24/7. Hemingway App works wonders here. It helps you rewrite passive and otherwise challenging sentences. 

Resources