Style Guide

Writing for the web: General rules​

People don’t read. They scan.

Most visitors (79 percent) spend less than one minute on a page.

Text – particularly headlines -- attract before graphics.

People read web pages in an “F” pattern, starting at the upper left-hand corner and skimming across, then moving down and to the right.

Less is more.

​Web users don’t read; they scan, looking for digestible bits of information.

Ask yourself, “Can I find ways to say this in fewer words?”

As a rule, limit yourself to one topic per page.

Write short sentences and paragraphs.

Divide long sentences into two. If a sentence is 20-30 words or longer, reread it nd consider dividing it into two shorter sentences.

Write short paragraphs. If a paragraph is longer than 4-5 sentences (100-125 words), reread it and consider dividing the long paragraph into two shorter ones.

Get their attention.

When possible, focus your “hottest” content on the upper left-hand corner of the screen, which is where most eyes scan first.

Tailor copy to your reader’s goals. Task-focused pages should emphasize action verbs like view, pay, share, sign up, submit, etc.

Use the inverted pyramid style.

Put the essential information first, with details to follow.

Front-load copy with essential information to ensure it’s at the top of the page.

Background details can be placed further down or linked to a separate page.

Write in active voice.

​Your subject should be performing the action, rather than your subject having an action performed on it.

“Please send us your ideas” is active voice. “Your ideas can be submitted here” is passive voice.

Optimize pages for search engines (see Search Engine Optimization).

Write strong, compelling headlines in the “headline” field of your page

Break the copy up in to relevant categories/paragraphs with sub-heads

Identify one keyword or keyword phrase for the page you’re creating and employ it – and variations of it – regularly in the following places:

  • page title

  • page description

  • headline

  • first paragraph

  • first sentence

  • last paragraph

  • last sentence

  • other places where the keyword fits naturally

Images – reinforce your message

Visitors look at information (text) first; images last

Always uses alt text to describe your image

Images should never be used as filler or decoration

Avoid unclear or abstract images

General tips for creating scannable text (based on eye-tracking studies)

  • Use appropriate text decoration. Use bold and italics for emphasis, and avoid fancy fonts, colored fonts or all caps. Underlining is for hyperlinks only.

  • Avoid large blocks of text. Break up your copy with shorter paragraphs, headlines, subheads, decks and lists.

  • Good formatting draws attention. Use elements strategically in order to draw readers to your main points.

  • White space is good. It draws attention to the content you want front and center.

  • The further a person goes down a page, the less they read and the more they scan. Try to keep your content confined to what fits on a screen without having to scroll down.​

Elements of scannable content

Headline - pulls readers in.

You have less than ONE SECOND to attract readers.

Try to keep headlines to eight words or fewer.

Get straight to the point and use vivid, clear words.​

A good headline
Be a rock star in five easy steps

A ho-hum headline
Some practical tips on how to be a better writer

Deck - keeps readers reading.

A deck is one—maybe two—sentences just below your headline that provides a descriptive summary of your main idea. 

​Most people (95 percent) read all of part of a deck.

A good deck is one sentence, 14 words or less, and gives readers the gist of the story in five to 10 seconds.

Decks provide opportunities to repeat keywords.

A good deck
Got bulky?
Schedule a pickup for items too big for your rollout trash cart

A ho-hum deck
An option for oversized trash items
Citizens who have items that cannot fit into their rollout trash carts can call 311 to have them picked up from the curb

Subheads - organize the main points of your content.

​They break up your copy into digestible “chunks.”

They should answer questions to encourage readers to continue.

They are another good keyword opportunity.

Limit subheads to eight words (try not to let your copy wrap to a second line).

Limit to six subheadings/sections per web page.

Never underline – this formatting is for hyperlinks only.

A good subhead
Know a good cop? Nominate him!
Annual awards recognize officers who improve the communities they patrol

A ho-hum subhead
Call for nominations
Nominate a police officer for the 35th Annual Police Community Relations Awards

Lists - present a series of items and can be bulleted or numbered.

They hold readers’ attention longer than paragraphs.

A grouping of three or more items, phrases, sentences, etc. should be listed.

Link key words in each item, not the entire item, and never say “click here.”

Keep each list item shorts, one to five words.​

A good list
A child suffering physical abuse may
  • ​be nervous around adults
  • act aggressively 
  • have difficulty in school
  • be unable to focus
A ho-hum paragraph
Being nervous around adults, acting aggressively, having difficulty in school and being unable to focus are all possible signs of a child suffering from physical abuse.

Links and anchor text – refer readers to related information

​People scan links, so make them say something interesting.

Don’t use “click here,” “visit this page,” etc.

Link the topic words, not the entire sentence.

Consider adding a descriptive blurb.

Good anchor text
Create a beautiful lawn with less water

Ho-hum anchor text
Click here for landscaping tips