Writing for the internet
People read a screen differently than they read paper. Three factors play an important role in this:
- you see less well on a screen than on paper - you have to work harder to absorb the information from a screen, and you read, on average, 25% more slowly. It's less pleasant to read long texts and it leaves less of an impression.
- the web is not tangible - you can hold a book, leaf through it. There is a table of contents and an index. But a visitor to a website has no automatic insight into its structure. You arrive with no idea what you will find there, or how to look for what you need. Therefore web pages must be intuitive, offering information consistently and navigable with as little thought as possible.
- non-linear navigation - most media is linear: you read from cover to cover, or watch from the titles to the credits. Conversely, the Internet has no clear beginning or end. Visitors decide themselves what to read first, where to stop, and what to ignore.
Reading toward a goal
There is a lot of information on the screen. Often there is a navigation menu, an image, several columns, hyperlinks, subheadings, search fields, a footer, and so on. Visitors to a website typically read with a specific goal in mind. Ideally, they do this in three steps (although most readers don't go beyond the first):
- scanning – visitors first scan a page for relevant information
- reading – they read relevant information
- reading in depth – they stay to read in depth only if they can find what they’re after quickly and easily
Pages of the Maastricht University website can be published in two languages. In principle every page must be available in English; Dutch is optional. There are exceptions, however – for example, some pages on the bachelor’s portal are available only in Dutch. Limited information might also be presented in a third language.
For translations, contact the Maastricht University Language Centre.
User friendliness is sacred
- pages must be easily scan-able
- visitors should scroll as little as possible
- pages should not have too much information or…
- …a page should have quick access features at the top, such as an anchor system or animated sorting by category
- if the text is higher in the navigation structure, it must be shorter and scan more easily
- content should be as easy as possible!!!
1. Define a goal and a target group - before you begin writing, always answer the following questions:
- for whom is the text intended (students, staff, a sponsor, incoming student)?
- what do I want to achieve with my text (inform, convince, inspire)?
- at what level in the navigation should the text be placed (homepage, news, a portal?)
2. Structure the information - depending on your goal and target group, decide what information to offer; do not be afraid to delete irrelevant information!
- ask yourself the questions 'who, what, where, why and how' to decide what is the most important information?
- think from the visitor's perspective, not your own. What does the visitor expect to find, and what is interesting for him or her?
- choose a system for arranging information on the page, for example chronologically or by theme
3. Headings and leads - the heading and the lead fill the most important function on the page.
- heading – the title of the page, designed to catch the attention during the scanning phase
- lead – a ‘lead’ is a brief summary of a story featuring the 'who, what, when, why, and how' and designed to quickly catch a visitor in the Reading phase with the potential to send them into the Reading-in-depth phase. Also very valuable for SEO
4. Check your page
- check the style of your text; does it speak to the audience?
- are there any typing or spelling mistakes?
- does the layout make sense?
- do all of the links work?
- is the entire page clearly visible and/or quickly accessible?
Spelling and guidelines
There are two guides to spelling and vocabulary in UM publications.
Spelling and guidelines – a short guide of UM spelling and formatting conventions
– is hosted at the UM Language Centre and offers the correct wording, spelling and exact NL – EN versions and abbreviations of the most commonly used UM titles, terms and jargon
Rules for writing
- write short sentences (between 14 - 20 words)
- avoid sentences with more than one comma
- try to avoid jargon
- limit auxiliary verbs (could, would, should, to be, to have, seems)
- limit connecting words (as, then, also)
- limit adjectives (pretty, beautiful, splendid, nice)
- avoid indirect sentences (NOT: Laughter was made by the students. YES: The students laugh.)
- limit yourself to the essential: discard
- ideally paragraphs are 3 - 6 lines
- ideally pages are 150 - 300 words
- use subheads and summaries to make the text scannable
- separate paragraphs with a space
Use of language
- use colloquial speech
- avoid slang
- avoid old-fashioned or overly formal language
- avoid abbreviations: FL (the Faculty of Law) says nothing to a reader
- paragraph formatting – web text should be free of indented first lines and paragraphs should have one whole space between them
- no ‘blocks’ of text – avoid large, unbroken blocks of text
- use tables and lists – tables and lists help keep web pages ordered, scannable, and legible
- keep fonts and typefaces simple - don't use cursive or italics, leave body text one size, only underline hyperlinks and e-mail addresses, and only boldface subheadings
- use short subheadings - keep headings and subheadings short, as the first two words are the most easily read
Content & audiences
Prospective master's students
Description: bachelor's & master’s programme graduates looking for information about master's programmes
Tone-of-voice: informative, enthusiastic and inviting (keeping in mind that the group of potential master's students is somewhat older)
Communications goals: The central theme for master's communications is 'Innovation is our focus'. In addition to the Netherlands, attention is directed toward an established number of target countries (Baltics, Belgium, China, England, Germany, India, Poland, etc.).
- the international aspect of Maastricht University: possibilities for study and internships abroad, programmes taught in English, European and international themes, Europe-oriented programmes, international partnerships
- recognition of talent
- research: Innovation is our focus; valorisation; multidisciplinary teams cooperating with businesses and governing bodies; education and research closely intertwined; international themes that are relevant for society both today and tomorrow
- post-study possibilities: graduates are independent professionals with a solid specialised knowledge, who can also work well as team members. They are much sought after on the international employment market and can live and work all over the world.
- UM students are seen as members of the academic community
Prospective PhD students
Description: (almost-) graduated students who want to enter academia and/or research, including working professionals being sponsored by their employers
Tone-of-voice: informative and inviting
Communications goals: The central theme for PhD communications is 'Innovation is our focus'
- the international aspect of Maastricht University: possibilities for study abroad, teaching in English, European and international themes, Europe-oriented programmes, international partnerships
- research: Innovation is our focus; valorisation and enterprise; multidisciplinary teams cooperating with businesses and governing bodies; education and research closely intertwined; international themes that are relevant for society both today and tomorrow
- the development of graduate schools
- UM students are seen as members of the academic community
Description: a diverse group of people who want to work at Maastricht University
Tone-of-voice: informative and inviting, not to informal
Communications goal: to present a picture of Maastricht University as an attractive employer for support and scientific personnel, focusing on: UM's position within the international community, good terms of employment, career development, talent, innovation in personnel leadership
- think of a headline that is concise and delivers the essence of the story
- make a short subtitle next to any pictures. This text should give a brief description of what the photo shows
- put the most important information (who, what, where, why, how, when) in the introduction
- make sure that the information presented in the story goes from most important to least important
- use colloquial speech
- avoid jargon and complicated sentences
- use a maximum of 300 words
- link to the press release (if there is one) or to a page with more specific information about the topic
- in the headline, state the subject clearly
- put the most important information in the introduction (who, what, where, why, how, when)
- use a maximum of 100 words
- if possible, link to a page with more information, application form etc.
Business & professionals
Description: people who visit the Maastricht University website for professional reasons; often they are looking for specific contact information
Tone-of-voice: business-like and hospitable
Communications goals: to provide businesses and professionals with possibilities within Maastricht University: instruction, research, recruitment of interns and graduates, and to provide services and contact information
Donors & sponsors
Description: people who support the university with money or in other ways
Tone-of-voice: business-like, confident and trustworthy
Communications goals: to recruit active support for the university's endowment. To recruit financial support for challenging programmes that can further broaden the impact of Maastricht University on society, and contribute to an enterprising economy of knowledge; regionally, nationally and internationally.
Description: journalists who are looking for research information or experts to interview for an article or radio/tv news item
Tone-of-voice: informative, to the point
Communications goal: to strengthen the reputation/image of the university with the general public, leading to:
- an increased research budget
- higher student numbers
- advancing the university's image as an attractive employer and research university
Description: all graduates of Maastricht University
Tone-of voice: informal and enthusiastic
Communications goals: maintaining and strengthening the relationship with and amongst UM graduates; information on alumni activities; UM updates
Description: Maastricht University students, both bachelor's and master's
Tone-of-voice: informative and inviting
Communications goals: to provide students the information and details required for university life; let students know why the university has made particular decisions and encourage them to identify with the university 'brand'.
Description: staff of Maastricht University
Communications goals: provide staff the information and details needed to carry out their work. To let staff know why the university has made certain decisions, to help staff to identify with 'brand UM'. On the basis of this knowledge, staff can help to develop the image of the university.
- limit yourself to the nucleus of the message
- complete quotes, do not paraphrase
- state the interviewee's name, age, programme/function and country of origin
- goal: to bring a page to life or actualise a subject.
- use a maximum of 150 words
- teaser: maximum 15 words
- always include a photo of the interviewee
- is the tone of the text appropriate for the reader? (Keep the various target groups in mind)
- does the page fulfil its purpose?
Construction and structure
- does the page have a logical structure (beginning with the most important information, followed by elaboration and details?)
- is the page limited to one subject?
- where possible, have you made use of clarifying elements, such as lists and tables?
- is your text less than 300 words (about one and a half screen lengths)?
- does the page have a clear introduction of three to five sentences, presenting the most essential information?
- can the reader see from the introduction whether the text will be relevant for his or her needs?
Head, subheading, and correlated material
- does the page have a clear headline that delivers the message?
- does the page need a subheading? (if you can't communicate the essence in the headline, or if you want to focus the reader's attention on a specific aspect of the subject)
- do all of the paragraphs have a subheading?
- are the subheadings short, informative and to the point? Are they similar in form and do they deliver the message?
- is the page divided into clear paragraphs of a proscribed length? (guideline: maximum 8 lines on the screen)
- have you made use of an entire return between each paragraph?
- does each paragraph begin with a core sentence?
- is each paragraph limited to a specific subject?
- is the connection between the paragraphs clear?
Sentence construction, word choice and spelling
- have you used correct spelling in keeping with Maastricht University usage?
- have you avoided 'difficult' or unclear words (jargon, old-fashioned or abstract words, double meanings, etc.)?
- are the sentences active and are they constructed following the SVEE-principle (Subject-Verb-Everything Else)?
- are the sentences not too long or complicated?
- have you used enough variation in sentence length, construction and word choice?
- have you made any spelling, grammatical or style mistakes?
Search engine optimisation
- have you filled in a relevant title-tag that is clear and has enough search terms (maximum 80 characters)?
- have you filled in a relevant meta-description tag that is clear and has enough search terms (maximum 180 characters)?
- do the headline and the subheading contain search terms?
- do the links contain search terms?
- do the alt-texts of eventual images contain search terms?