Content style guide launched

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This week we’re thrilled to announce the launch of the new content style guide. Forming part of the brand website, we’ve produced the guide so we can take a clear and consistent approach to all the content we produce.

We’ve laid out some basic principles that should be adopted when writing content:

  • Understand your audience
  • Keep it simple, but don’t patronise
  • Keep it short
  • Show as well as tell

At the heart of these principles is our intention to create content that helps the person reading it.

As content creators, we often have to touch upon subjects which can seem rather technical, dry or even bureaucratic. For example, paying your fees, applying for visas, and understanding degree structures would all fall into this group to some extent. If we are providing this kind of information then there is a responsibility on us to explain these subjects in a way that respects the user’s time, ability and environment.

A useful starting point for this approach is to ask ‘what does the user want to know?’ not ‘what do I want to say?

Clear communication is effective communication. Using simple language shouldn’t be considered dumbing down your content, rather opening it up to a whole new audience who might have struggled with more complicated terms.

We frequently deal with types of content that you could describe as functional or transactional, but these same principles should apply if we are writing promotional or marketing content.

We should show as well as tell. For example, we know rankings reflect how great the student experience is at the University of Dundee but that selling point becomes even more powerful if a student talks about this in a blog post or a video.

Inevitably, there will be some instances when it will be difficult to apply all of these principles. When talking about the impact of University research for example, we might use a quote from an academic that contains specialist language. Of course, one person’s specialist language is another person’s jargon so we should try to balance that with an explanation of the subject in layman’s terms.

With so much content being produced across our digital and non-digital platforms it’s important that our internal and external audiences have a consistent experience when using that content. The content style guide should help make this as seamless as possible as it contains guidance on voice and tone, writing and a growing reference guide on grammar, spelling, and University of Dundee terminology.

As a content team we’ve put a huge amount of work into the content style guide, indeed it’s been something of a labour of love. It’s amazing (or perhaps tragic) how passions rise when content people discuss things like the Oxford comma or semi-colons. We believe that words matter. They are often the difference between a good and bad user experience and this, ultimately, impacts on our reputation as a University.

The guide isn’t exhaustive by any means and we want it to evolve and grow. In some ways, creating it is the easy part. The hard work now begins in applying it to our content and getting people to engage with it.

If you have any thoughts or questions relating to the content style guide you can email styleguide@dundee.ac.uk

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Written by: Danny Cassidy

As Web Content Manager for the University, my role is to improve our website through better planning, creation, delivery and governance of content.


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