Writing and webpage style guide

The Writing and Webpage Style Guide includes original and previously published content from these sources: 

Email the ASU Business and Finance Communications Group with questions. 

Engage and understand your reader

Communications goals: 

  1. Believe in brevity. 

  2. Create clear content. 

  3. Encourage action. 

  4. Grab the reader’s attention.

Think like a reader. What is in it for them? Readers want to know: 

  • Advantages.

  • Benefits.

  • Features.  

What goes first? 

  • Engage "skim" and "scan" readers with bullet points and numbered lists.

  • Keep ancillary and background information at the end of your document or hyperlink to it.

  • Place information at the beginning that will keep your reader engaged or prompt them to take action. 

  • Use brief sentences. 

Keep readers engaged

Most people only spend two hours per day reading, including business and leisure copy, such as advertisements, billboards, blogs, books, emails and more.
So make every sentence count. 

The average person reads 200 words per minute. To find your content’s average reading time, take the document word-count figure and divide it by 200. 

Microsoft Word readability statistics

In Word Preferences, select Spelling and Grammar and check Show Readability Statistics.

Averages section: 

  • A 14-word sentence has a 90% reader-comprehension rate.

  • An eight-word sentence has a 100% reader-comprehension rate.

  • The average paragraph length a reader is willing to read is 42 words.

  • Keep the first paragraph to 25 words or less.

  • Paragraphs should not exceed 63 words. 

  • Write sentences that are 21 words or less. 

Readability section:

  • Flesch Reading Ease: Aim for the 50% or higher range. 

  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Seventh grade reaches the most readers. 

*Engage and understand your reader information presented at Ann Wylie’s “Catch Your Reader” May 2013 seminar, used with permission.


ASU Brand writing style guide

ASU Business and Finance follow the ASU Enterprise Brand and Marketing Writing Style Guide and Associated Press style in all marketing and communications.

Abbreviations

  • Do not follow an organization’s full name with an abbreviation, acronym or initialism in parentheses or set it off with dashes. Not: Arizona State University (ASU); Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). 

  • Do not use abbreviations that are not readily recognizable. Less commonly known words or phrases should be spelled out on the first reference and abbreviated afterward.

  • If an abbreviation is not clear on subsequent reference without this arrangement, it should not be used. However, use an acronym if it is the official name of an organization.

  • In communications intended for students and the public, use the full name of an ASU unit or its approved abbreviation, or use a workaround, such as center, institute, office, school or college.

Academic references

  • Always uppercase ASU department names: University Business Services; Financial Services.

  • Degree abbreviations should not include periods: BA, BS, MFA, PhD.

  • List the various campus locations in alphabetical order: Downtown Phoenix campus, Polytechnic campus, Tempe campus, West campus.

  • Lowercase campus: Downtown Phoenix campus, Polytechnic campus, etc.

  • Only capitalize proper nouns.

  • When standing alone, university is always lowercase. Not: The University.

Addresses

  • With a numbered address, use the abbreviations and include a period: Ave., Blvd. and St. 300 E. University Ave. Spell out Ave. Blvd. and St. when used without a numbered address: University Avenue, Sunset Boulevard. Lowercase and spell out addresses when used alone or with more than one street name: University and Mill avenues.

  • Alley, drive, road, terrace, etc. always are spelled out. Capitalize them when part of a formal name without a number: Gilbert Road. Lowercase when used alone or with two or more names: Gilbert and Dobson roads.

  • A numbered address always includes the city, followed by a comma and the state and the ZIP code. Do not use a comma between the state and ZIP code.

  • Use the two-letter postal code abbreviation when referring to a city and state in an address: AZ, NM, CA, NV, etc. 

Bulleted and numbered lists

  • Both bulleted and numbered statements begin with capital letters and end with periods.

  • Use bulleted lists for information that is not required or is in random order. Arrange the lines in alphabetical order.

  • Use numbered lists for required information or a specific order, such as step-by-step instructions. Arrange the lines in sequence.

  • Use parallel construction; begin each line with the same part of speech, a noun, a verb, etc.

City and state

  • In content other than addresses, well-known cities do not need to include the state: Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix.

  • Spell out the names of all 50 U.S. states in the body copy, when they stand alone, or in conjunction with a city or town.

Contact information

  • Always link a person’s name to their ASU directory listing rather than listing their name, email and phone number in the copy.

  • Always link department contact information to the contact page rather than listing contact information individually on a page.

  • Avoid including an actual email address in the body copy of the email and hyperlink it instead: Send an email to Michael Crow.

Dashes

  • An em dash (—) creates an abrupt change, marks a series within a phrase, or adds emphasis to the text that follows. Use em dashes sparingly. Always use a space before and after an em dash

    • Create an em dash on a Mac: Shift + Option + Minus key; on a PC: Ctrl + Alt + Minus key.

  • Use the en dash (–) to connect things that are related to each other by distance, to indicate a range, such as between dates, times or numbers, except when the words “to,” “or” or “and” are preferable. Place a space before and after an en dash. 

    • Create an en dash on a Mac: Option+Minus; on a PC: Ctrl+Alt+Minus keys.

Dates, months and times

  • Dates 

    • Days of the week are spelled out. A tabular format like a chart or table uses a three-letter abbreviation without periods: Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat.

    • Do not use numerical treatments of dates, 8/14/20, in headlines or narrative content. In terms and conditions, expiration date, fine print or internal-use presentations, separate the date, month and year with a forward slash, 8/14/20. Do not use hyphens, periods, pipes or any other separator. Offer expires 8/17/20. Not: The offer expires 08/17/2020.

    • March 15, not March 15th.

    • Use an en dash to separate date ranges and do not include spaces between the dash and the numerals: Register for classes between Jan. 7–25, 2021. The show runs Jan. 15–Feb. 8, 2021.

  • Months 

    • Abbreviate months of the year unless they have five letters or fewer: Sept. Nov., Jan., March, July, etc.

    • Chart labels and table entries use a tabular format with a three-letter abbreviation without a period: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul  Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec.

    • When referring only to a month or a month and a year, the month is spelled out and no comma between the month and year: His camping trip is this coming January. They took a vacation during October 2020.

    • Use an en dash between academic years and remove century digits in the second year reference. Do not place spaces on either side of the en dash: 2020–21. 

    • Use phrasing to note a span of calendar years, not an en dash: She was president from 2017 to 2020

  • Times

    • Always lowercase a.m. and p.m. and use periods to separate the letters. Place a space between the time of day and a.m. and p.m., e.g., 7 a.m. or 10 p.m. 

    • For time spans, use to between the numerals, not a hyphen or dash: The class is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    • Use an en dash in tabular format with no spaces on either side of the en dash.

    • Do not use an apostrophe in decades in the plural form: He grew up in the 1970s. To shorten decades in the plural form, use apostrophes instead of “19.” Most girls wore poodle skirts in the ‘50s.

    • Use noon, not 12:00 p.m., 12 noon or 12 p.m. Use midnight, not 12:00 a.m., 12 midnight, or 12 a.m.

    • Use numerals to note the time and do not refer to times of the day in a sentence: Not: We stopped for coffee at 10 a.m. this morning.

​Department titles

  • Always capitalize unit titles: Sun Devil Card Services, University Technology Office, Office of Planning and Budget, etc.

  • Always lowercase areas within the various units: permit sales office, travel office, etc.

Dollars and cents

  • Always lowercase. Use figures and the $ sign in all except casual references or amounts without a figure: The card cost $4. I am a dollar short.

  • For amounts less than $1 million, do not include decimal places: $4, $25, $500, $1,000, $650,000.

  • For amounts more than $1 million, use up to two decimal places for amounts, but do not link numerals and the word with a hyphen: The painting is worth $9.25 million. He proposed a $300 billion budget.

  • For specified amounts, the word takes a singular verb: He said $500,000 is what they want.

  • Numerals alone, with or without a decimal point as appropriate, may be used in the tabular matter.

  • Spell out cents and lowercase. Use numerals for amounts less than a dollar: 5 cents, 12 cents.

Grammar

  • Use second person point-of-view sparingly, especially in news and feature stories.

  • Write in the present tense. Use active voice; avoid passive voice as much as possible.

Headlines 

  • Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Do not capitalize every word in a headline.

Numerals

  • Spell out first through ninth and use figures for 10th and above, unless these are part of a formal name or title. Do not use “th” or “nd” for dates: July 7.

  • Spell out one through nine; use numerals for 10 and higher.

Percent, percentages

  • Use "to" and "and" for percentage ranges: 11% to 21%; between 30% and 37%.

  • Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases. Use figures and decimals, not fractions, for percent and percentages: 2.5%, 3 percentage points. 

  • Use the decimal with a zero for amounts less than 1 percent: The stock market rose 0.7%.

  • Use words rather than figures and numbers in casual uses: The slow runner had a zero percent chance of winning the race. 

Phone numbers

  • Always include the area code with a phone number.

  • Use dashes without spaces: 480-965-2000.

Punctuation

  • Do not use a comma before the final “and” in a series unless the series references individual sentences.

  • For dates and times, see Dates, months and times section.

  • Limit the use of exclamation points, especially in news and feature stories.

Web references

  • Avoid using a URL. Whenever possible, use “more information,” or use the department title to display the text for a hyperlink: For more information, visit the ASU Human Resources webpage. When you must use a web address, do not include the www or https:// in the display text.

  • Do not use a dash in Email or email.

  • website is lowercase and one word.

Do not use or hyperlink “click here" or "more." Keywords can be inserted into the anchor text of internal ASU page links:

  • Instead of “Click here for more information,” use “Learn more about Arizona State University tuition and fees.”

  • When necessary, always link the person’s name to their ASU directory listing rather than listing their name, email and phone number in the content.

Announcement-News template

The messages we post or send need to include the following elements, so they comprise the right amount of information for your reader. Incorporate these fundamental components in your draft submission to the Business and Finance Communications Group.

  1. Today’s date: Sept. 9, 2020.

  2. Headline: Use five or six words to describe your message’s essence in subject-verb-object order, e.g., Man bites dog.

  3. Who | information source:

    1. Name and title of the person, department or subject, e.g., Kevin Salcido, vice president, ASU Office of Human Resources.

    2. Audience: the group you are trying to reach, e.g., benefits-eligible employees, Lot 59 permit holders.

  4. What: Use no more than 400 words to list three-to-four story highlights in order of most to least significant. Use hyperlinks to provide additional information to another ASU or external webpages that support your story.

  5. Why: What’s in it for readers? Convince them to care.

  6. When: Dates or timeframe your message is relevant to readers, e.g., Staff may process group travel in My ASU Trip effective Jan. 11, 2021. Attend the ASU Staff barbecue March 12, 2021, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

  7. Where: Include any specific locations relevant to your message, e.g., campus, building or venue name.

  8. Contact: Name, title, phone and @asu.edu address. If a contact is unnecessary, include a hyperlink to the appropriate ASU departmental contact webpage.

  9. Cost: If applicable. Include what your reader needs to participate, e.g., cash, cards, ASU ID.

Best practices

  • All documents should be appropriately branded with the ASU logo, department name, revision date and contact information. The documents should use Arial for text and ASU brand colors. Avoid using blue.

  • All files should be PDF with hyperlinks. Avoid using Word, PowerPoint, etc., when possible.

  • Always retain the same file name. This practice is significant when other non-Business and Finance units at ASU link to our documents. We don’t want to create broken links.

  • Develop online Drupal electronic forms when signatures are not required. This practice avoids having to fill out a form, print it or email it back; it reduces paper and promotes sustainability.

  • Do not copy our forms and upload them to your site. Please link directly to the form. Business and Finance regularly updates and removes forms to adopt new policies and procedures.

  • Do not copy our page content or create your customized versions to insert onto your site. Please link to the page with the content. Business and Finance regularly updates text and information that can quickly become outdated.

  • File names should contain appropriate names to identify the form, such as benefits-enrollment.pdf, hazmat-waste-pickup.pdf, etc.

  • File naming convention: Do not use underscores, spaces, dates, years or versions in the file name.

  • If PDF forms are required, please make them fillable.

Photo and video guidelines

Photo and Model Releases

  • All photographs and videos taken on university property or of university events must obtain a signed model release from any student, faculty member, staff person, or member of the public who is visibly recognizable in the photograph.

  • All signed photo and model releases should remain on file as long as the imagery is in use.

  • Crowd scenes where no one person is a dominant figure do not require model releases.

  • Departments should obtain a photo release for all photographs and videos that have not been taken by a university employee.

Photographic content

Photography should follow ASU Brand guidelines

Style

  • A summary of the ASU photo guidelines is outlined below. However, please review the full description found on the website for comprehensive guidance.

  • All images and graphics used on the cfo.asu.edu website must be owned or licensed by ASU.

  • Because the text is still a focal point, the visionary message remains at the top of the hierarchy. Images for the Business and Finance website may or may not appear with a text overlay.

    • Contact Elaine Rettger for input regarding text overlays when planning images for the main Business and Finance landing page.

  • Consider diversity to ensure that imagery is not exclusive.

  • Documentary images show the viewer why our project is essential and why they should care.

  • Imagery can move from a simple supporting player to a powerful part of the message. To strike an emotional chord, we need to convey a compelling situation or describe it in a compelling way.

  • Images or artwork commonly referred to as “clip art” are not permissible on the cfo.asu.edu website.

  • Images should have an identifiable subject matter.

  • Try to have participants face the camera as much as possible. Do not have participants with their backs to the camera.

  • Use identifiable ASU landmarks and buildings where possible to reinforce a sense of place.

Video content

Videography should follow ASU Brand guidelines. Video may be used on the cfo.asu.edu website to support message conveyance and content understanding.

  • Acceptable video content links and embedded viewers.

    • All ASU branding and legal use guidelines must be followed in all video content.

    • Content linked from any cfo.asu.edu webpage must be reviewed, processed, and posted on the Business and Finance YouTube site by the Business and Finance Communications video group.

    • No content on YouTube or other social media video websites may be linked to from cfo.asu.edu webpages.

    • Video content also may be hosted as an in-page viewer on another webpage located within the asu.edu domain.

    • Video content should be high definition, but all videos submitted will be reviewed on a per-­case basis with a determination to its technical and creative appropriateness.

1. Plan your webpage 

Plan your page

Before you send your copy out for approval, prepare the proofreaders and stakeholders by explaining:

  • It’s impossible to predict how visitors will enter the site and which pathways they’ll take once they get there. Therefore, some basic information will need to be repeated across different pages, and it may need to be rephrased to avoid duplicate content issues.

  • Most web visitors will skim and scan copy rather than read every word.

What is the purpose of the page? 

  • What do you want to accomplish with it?

  • What information should be left off this page, deleted or moved to another page?

  • What information will be covered on this page that isn’t already covered on another page?

  • What questions will you answer?

How does the page relate to their pages? 

It is helpful to know how the page relates to other pages to benefit visitors and Google and to avoid duplicate content issues. For example, if your school offers a BA and a BS option for the same major and intends to create a separate page for each degree, you will want to plan what information to provide on each of the respective pages and how to cross-­reference the page. It is also important to consider:

  • Where will the page reside on the website?

  • Which other ASU pages the page will link out to?

  • Which pages will link to the page?

Recommended page length is 300-­500 words. Google doesn’t like pages that are thin on content, and visitors don’t like pages that are too long.

  • If you have a page that’s thin on content, less than 200 words, delete the page and move it to another page.

  • If you have a page containing more than 1,000 words, break the content into blocks and create separate pages that link off the “primary” page.

  • Keep the focus of each page on a single topic. Ideally, you should have a unique page for each main topic. Keep the page’s direction tight so it is easier to position the page for Search Engine Optimization, particularly in terms of URLs, title tags, and headings.

  • Make a list of primary words/key phrases that you’d like to repeat throughout the pages. This list should include:

    • ASU phrases | ASU, Arizona State, Arizona State University.

    • Department phrases | facilities, benefits, etc.

    • Locale phrases | Phoenix, Tempe, Arizona, USA.

    • Page-­specific phrases.

2. Write webpage content

Organize information

  • Break up large blocks of text by including subheadings with H2 designations and present information in bulleted lists when appropriate.

  • Draw up an outline that consists of the eight-to-ten topics or paragraphs that you’d like to include on your page.

  • Pay attention to your opening sentences and paragraphs, and contain your primary keywords and phrases.

  • Think like a visitor to your page and organize the information in order of importance, from most important to least important.

Write engaging copy that visitors and search engines will love

Use keyword repetition as much as possible without degrading the quality of the document.

  • After you have inserted keywords, read the copy aloud to make sure that it still sounds natural.

  • The more keywords and phrases you place on a page the better, as long as they flow naturally as part of engaging copy. Google considers it bad practice to “keyword stuff,” which is defined loosely as more than 5% to 7% keyword density for the same keyword or phrase. Anything near that range, however, would be virtually unreadable.

Combine broad phrases and long­‐tailed phrases

  • As you write, include broad keyword phrases, one-to-three word phrases, and long-­tailed keyword phrases, four-or-more word phrases.

  • While short and broad keyword phrases receive more search volume, they are also highly competitive and sometimes off ­target. While longer keyword phrases receive less search volume, they often represent more qualified clicks.

    • Example of a short and broad keyword phrase: Bachelor marketing.

    • Example of a long‐tailed keyword phrase: Bachelor degree program in marketing.

Acronyms and abbreviations

  • Example of the acronym and the full name: For more information about ASU’s MBA program, Master of Business Administration degree, visit XXX.

  • For the most part, people who use search engines don’t search using acronyms or abbreviations, except for BA, BS, MBA, etc. These should be used sparingly in copy or accompanied by full titles and spellings.

  • Spell out acronyms as often as possible without stunting the copy’s flow or using both versions in a sentence.

Avoid duplicate content

  • Duplicate content is categorized as identical content, similar content and reminiscent content. All webpage copy should be original that has not been taken from any other website pages and hasn’t been reproduced on any other website pages, including ASU pages.

  • Google also can penalize the page or website for excessive use of duplicate content.

  • Google removes duplicate content from its index whenever it catches it.

  • If you know that you need to have duplicate content on different pages, you’ll need to rewrite each version of the content to be unique and different from other versions of the content.

  • To check for duplicate content issues, visit the Copyscape website and paste in the URL of the page you’d like to review. You can perform up to 20 searches per month, per domain, at no charge. When you sign up for the premium service, which costs just 5 cents per search, you can see the total number of duplicate content results and what content has been duplicated.

3. Optimize webpage content 

Use bulleted lists to break up large blocks of text. Bulleted lists also are a great place to insert keywords because readers tend to skim these lists.

Example of keyword insertion, highlighted in bold, in a bulleted list: 

There are many types of college loans available:

  • Arizona student loans.

  • Federal student loans.

  • Parent loans.

  • Private student loans.

Anchor text in internal links

Insert keywords into the anchor text of internal links, links that go to other ASU pages. Example of effective anchor text in an internal link. Note the maroon text represents the actual link: