Writing for the web instruction


Instruction statement

To provide web content creators, web editors and web managers with instructions on how to write web text that meets best practice principles and ensure the RMIT web presence is a trusted resource that provides a good experience for all web users.


This instruction does not apply to:

  • courseware, including scholarly and student work and teaching and learning materials
  • websites that have no relationship to RMIT (e.g., personal or private websites)

Instruction steps and actions

Applying good web writing principles helps users to find your content through search engines and then to find what they are looking for quickly on the page.
Writing for the web differs from writing for print publications and reflects the way in which people use websites. People tend to spend very little time reading most web pages. Instead we scan (or skim) them, looking for words or phrases that catch our eye (things we are interested in). On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely. 79% of people always scan any new page they come across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Source: Jakob Nielsen).

Instruction (including key points)


1. Write for all users

The RMIT website has a broad, international audience, so our content needs to be clearly read by all of our users.

1.1 Use plain English

To make content accessible to all users choose words and phrases most people use. For example use "buy" rather than "purchase". Ensure text is free of jargon, idioms, foreign words and uncommon acronyms.

Write for a high-school, year 7–9 reading level (up to Flesch-Kincaid grade 9). Use the readability statistics in Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar tool to find the Flesch-Kincaid reading level of your text.

1.2 Provide the facts

Facts must always take precedence over content that sells or promotes.

1.3 Be approachable and trustworthy

A professional and conversational tone builds trust and helps users read quickly. Make your text engaging by referring to RMIT using the words "we" and "our" and refer to users using "you" and "your".

1.4 Use a tone that speaks to our users

While our style is consistent across the web, our tone can vary to speak with specific user groups. User personas have been developed for RMIT's key audiences and these should be consulted to understand your audience.

content creators

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2. Be direct

2.1 Use active voice

Use active voice (ie. the subject of the sentence does the action described). For example:

Active: The Vice-Chancellor agreed that Friday would be a holiday.

Passive: It was agreed by the Vice-Chancellor that Friday would be a holiday. 

2.2 Stay focused

Where possible, start and finish your point on one page. Use headers and paragraphs to keep related ideas together. Consider separating ideas into more pages if the content becomes too long. Any other content on the page (for example, video, images) must support the same message.

2.3 Keep it short

Write short sentences, paragraphs and pages. For most pages keep sentences below 30 words, paragraphs below five sentences and text pages appropriate to their content type. For appropriate lengths see the Content type instruction.

2.4 Use only essential words

Make every word count by omitting modifiers (for example, “entirely” true) wordy expressions, categories (for example, state in the country, blue in colour) and pairs (for example, first and foremost).

2.5 Follow the TRACC matrix

Create content that is Timely, Relevant, Accurate, Current and Compelling. For more see the Content audit instruction

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3. Make your content scannable

Users do not read web copy word for word, but rather skim the page for content that is meaningful to them.

3.1 Put the most important information first

This helps visitors to quickly find the information they are looking for.

3.2 Break related content into small chunks

Break large chunks of text into smaller paragraphs of no more than a few sentences.

3.3 Use headings and subheadings

Give users who scan a sense of what is contained in the page by using headings to describe your main points and supporting points. Make them meaningful rather than clever or cute.

3.4 Use keywords in titles, headings and paragraphs

Keywords are descriptive or information-carrying terms that the user is looking for when reading your content. Using relevant keywords in your heading and introductory sentences helps users to quickly find the content they are looking for.

3.5 Break up text with lists and tables

Break up long lists with bullet points and describe step-by-step tasks with numbered lists. Lists should be no more than nine items and items should be written consistently.

3.6 Use text formatting sparingly

Be consistent with formatting. Avoid using bold and italics.

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4. Be task-oriented

4.1 Use metadata

Metadata helps users find content using the RMIT website search and other search engines. It includes keywords, page descriptions, URLs, alt text and headers. To understand how to add metadata, see the Metadata schema instruction.

4.2 Ensure your page has a clear purpose

Users may arrive at your page via a direct link from search or social media, or by clicking through the site. That means page content must work both as a first page and a step in journey. Your introductory paragraph must clearly explain the purpose and content of the page to let users know where they are. Remember not to duplicate content.

4.3 Add a call-to-action

Help users complete their journey by telling them what to do next. Calls-to-action could include: contacting RMIT, reading associated content, sharing the content or completing forms. Consider the purpose of your page and suggest the appropriate action.

4.4 Write meaningful links

Links should be short but provide enough information for the user to determine the purpose of the link and whether they want to go there. For example, instead of Find out more about the RMIT Commuter Club use Find out more about the RMIT Commuter Club. Links to external websites should let users know they are being taken off the RMIT website (eg. Visit the VTAC website).

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[Next: Supporting documents and information]