Won’t somebody think of the semi-colons?

The University’s new content style guide is a large resource, and it’s a living document, so it’s only going to get larger. Within it are rules and guidelines covering everything from tone of voice to correct apostrophe use, from word choice to date format. If you find a formatting, style, punctuation or spelling situation not covered by the guide, it’s probably only because we haven’t thought of it yet. It’s really, really big.

That means it would be very hard for anyone to follow every rule in the style guide all of the time, particularly when there are lots of rules that folk won’t even know they’re breaking. Over time we’ll get better and better at this, of course, but in the meantime it’s worth asking the question: what are the style guide’s main aims? What’s most important?

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Why we stopped using ‘please note’

Writing for the web can be very different to writing for print.  Visitors to your webpages will not be reading the text in the same way as they might read a leaflet or brochure.  Instead they will be scanning the text, picking out key words and phrases, and trying to gauge the meaning of the content in as short a time as possible.

Imagine you’re driving past a billboard at 60mph in the car.  You can only take in a limited amount of information and there’s no time to mentally process any complicated wording.  Whilst the window of opportunity for a webpage is not quite so narrow, you need to bear in mind that your readers might be racing through your content rather than reading and digesting every carefully crafted word.

We need to adapt our writing style accordingly.  We don’t want to confuse our readers by using words which are ambiguous, difficult to understand, or which act as obstacles to providing a clear message or straightforward navigation.

With this in mind, we’ve listed below some words that you should avoid using as these reduce the readability of our content.

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Let’s stop drowning in content

Websites, social media and apps are such a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives that it’s difficult to imagine a time when we made decisions about products or interacted with services purely by picking up the phone or looking at a printed catalogue and completing an order form. We all love the benefits that the digital revolution has brought; it empowers us as consumers, helps us make more informed decisions, brings individuals and communities closer together and ultimately gives us access to previously unimaginable amounts of data and information.

Yet there are drawbacks to this revolution. At times it can feel like we’re drowning in content. People have never been so empowered to make decisions but conversely never has the potential to be overwhelmed by information been so great. What strategies do we adopt when dealing with information overload? Unwittingly or not, we have all become more discerning and savvy as consumers. We cut out or ignore the fluff and the unnecessary content that competes for our attention, we become accustomed to curating content based on our needs and interests and look to trusted sources to validate any decisions we need to make when it comes to parting with our hard earned cash.

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