I offer this for peer review. Please read the note at the end for more information. Feel free to offer your feedback however you receive this, Facebook, Twitter, or on this blog.
Best Practice: Remember who we are writing for. Stay away from jargon or career development holistic ideals (at first).
First, determine the audience you are writing for. College students? Faculty? Employers? Unless you are writing to a group of colleagues about career development, your primary college and employer audience wants things quick and easy.
State a principle or purpose up front, then elaborate (briefly). Divide content into sections with titles for easy scan-ability. If a subject matter requires further explanation or a deeper understanding, suggest links or additional resources. Perhaps provide a page or section in which you go into greater detail. Entice them first.
Yes, we’ve heard the arguments over “First-Year students” vs. “Freshman.” “Residence Halls” vs. “Dormitory.” The nice thing about these phrases is that the revised aesthetically pleasing, public relations correct, jargon actually explains itself to our modern audience. This is unlike, say, “Refectory” vs. “Cafeteria.” Though deep down, many individuals know what a refectory is, it causes the majority of the population, when they come across that word, to pause, reach back into their high school vocabulary study, wonder if they correctly guess the meaning of the word, and chuckle at the archaic use before reading on.
Keep the words you use simple and at a lower level. Just as you have an impressive vocabulary that they younger generation doesn’t understand, they have an impressive vocabulary that you don’t understand.
Best Practice: Black text, white background. Keep it plain and simple. Never use underline or colors. Always left justified. Never use all caps.
The choice of font colors, sizes, and other aesthetic attributes is not up for the content creator to decide. These choices have already been made for you by Web designers. They are in a template that looks pretty and that template provides a nice plain area where your content will reside in plain, easy to read text.
Think of newspaper articles. Better yet, think about full color magazine articles where they have the printing mechanisms to mess with font sizes, colors, and all kinds of things. But they don’t. Even with all this capability, articles are plain text blobs. Web content should be too. All too often we want to dive into the world of advertising where font choices and creative text angles are the norm. That is an incorrect view.
The correct view is this: the page template has bells and whistles, with menus, site navigation, ads, etc. Don’t add to it. Make the text and content stand out, not tuned out. Your visitor wants information and you will retain them by providing it to them in a plain easy to read format.
Please note: This is a living document about to be released from its first draft. Even after the first version is complete, it will evolve as I discover new studies/resources and receive feedback. I am placing it on the Web for any comments, questions, or feedback. Though it is written for the staff of a private college career and counseling center there are many points that may be useful for the community at large. Contact me, post comments, agree or disagree. I just ask for feedback and hope we can benefit from this peer review together. I will add comments to this post or post newer updates under the tag: “Writing for the Web”