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Writing Goals and Principles

Good content design allows people to perform tasks or find information they need from our website simply and quickly using the most appropriate content format available. Our content design principles are based on research into user behavior, analytics and feedback.

If you need web content design assistance you can contact ComMar via our Workamajig Request.

Content principles

1. Appropriate

Publish content that is right for the user and for our business

There’s really only one central principle of good content: it should be appropriate for our business, for our users, and for its context. Appropriate in its method of delivery, in its style and structure, and above all in its substance.

2. Useful

Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content; evaluate content against this purpose

To know whether or not you have the right content for a page (or module or section), you have to know what that content is supposed to accomplish. Greater specificity produces better results.

3. User-Centered

Adopt the cognitive frameworks of our users

On a web project, user-centered design means that the final product must meet real user needs and fulfill real human desires.

4. Clear

Seek clarity in all things

When we say that something is clear, we mean that it works; it communicates. Good content speaks to people in a language they understand and is organized in ways that make it easy to use.

5. Consistent

Consistency, within reason

Consistency of language and presentation reduces the reader’s cognitive load and makes it easier for them to understand what they read. Inconsistency, on the other hand, adds cognitive effort, hinders understanding, and distracts readers.

That’s what our style guides are for.

6. Concise

Omit needless content

Does it matter if we have too much content? Yes. More content makes everything more difficult to find. Also, more content results in a decline in quality because we have finite resources to manage it. We should only publish what we’ve learned that our users really need.

7. Maintained

Publish no content without a support plan

Good content design practice ensures that content on this site stays accurate, relevant, current and optimized both for users and search engines. When content is no longer accurate or useful it needs to be deleted. The Governance Guidelines explain how we maintain and review content.

Writing great content

Writing great content clearly, in plain English, and optimised for the web helps people understand and find the information they need quickly and easily. This approach is based on research about how people use the Internet.


As a state resource, we must write so that our site is accessible to anybody. Our users have different reading abilities and check our site on a range of devices. We are required to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) level 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also make our web content more usable to users in general.

You may also want to access the Disability Language Style Guide.

Guidelines to ensure readability

Visitors to our website are often in a hurry to find the information they need. They may scan a page as they look for quick answers to their questions. Help our readers find what they need by following these guidelines:

  • Be concise
  • Use heads and subheads to “chunk” your content
  • Use short lists and bullets to organize information
  • Write short paragraphs—even shorter than you would on paper
  • Write short sentences

Know your audience

Your writing will be most effective if you understand who you’re writing for.

To understand your audience you should know:

  • how they behave, what they’re interested in or need help with—so your writing will answer their questions
  • their vocabulary—so that you can use the same terms and phrases they’ll use to search for content
  • when you have more than one audience—so your writing is easy for everyone.

The HFS Audience

Our website audience is primarily prospective residents who need information about on campus housing and dining. Our secondary audience are residents and parents, then staff and faculty.

Use plain language

When you write clearly and get to the point without using unnecessary words you get your message across quickly and increase the chance the information will be understood and used.

Talk to the user. “You” is the most powerful word on the web, and a conversational tone is appropriate for our site.

If you don’t believe the difference plain language can make, look at this example:

Wordy The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a half-hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days, preferably every day. The activity can include brisk walking, calisthenics, home care, gardening, moderate sports exercise, and dancing.

Clear Do at least 30 minutes of exercise, like brisk walking, most days of the week.

Page titles and headings

Most people who use our site get here via a search engine. Use the same vocabulary as your audience so they can find your content. This begins with your page title and first paragraph.

When writing a page title consider if it makes sense:

  • by itself—for example ‘Agreements’ doesn’t say much, but ‘Housing Agreements for Residence Halls’ does
  • in search results

Page length

There is no minimum or maximum page length for our site. However:

  • people only read 20–28% of a page anyway
  • remember that the pressure on the brain to understand increases for every 100 words you put on a page

This means that the quicker you get to the point, the greater the chance your target audience will see the information you want them to.

Writing body copy

Keep body copy as focused as possible.

  1. Use the ‘inverted pyramid’ approach with the most important information at the top tapering down to detail.
  2. Break up text with descriptive subheadings. The text should still make sense with the subheadings removed.
  3. Include keywords to boost natural search rankings.


Make sure your sub-headings are front-loaded with search terms and make them active.

Don’t use:

  • gerunds, e.g. ‘Apply for housing’ not ‘Applying for housing’
  • questions—answer your user's questions
  • technical terms unless you’ve already explained them
  • ‘introduction’ as your first section—users don’t want an introduction, just give the most important information

Use alt text

The alt tag is the most basic form of image description, and it should be included on all images. The language will depend on the purpose of the image:

  • If it’s a creative photo or supports a story, describe the image in detail in a brief caption.
  • If the image is serving a specific function, describe what’s inside the image in detail. People who don’t see the image should come away with the same information as if they had.
  • If you’re sharing a chart or graph, include the data in the alt text so people have all the important information.

Don’t use FAQs

FAQs are strongly discouraged on our site. If you write content by starting with user needs, you won’t need to use FAQs.

FAQs are discouraged because they:

  • duplicate other content on the site
  • can’t be front-loaded (putting the most important words people will search for), which makes usability difficult
  • mean that content is not where people expect to find it; it needs to be in context
  • can add to search results with duplicate, competing text