Writing Right for the Web… notes on academic program content

Writing Right for Academic Program Websites

Last week found me back at East Stroudsburg University for another campus presentation of “Writing Right for the Web.” Here are some random notes about academic program websites based on questions and discussions that came up during our two hours together.

Doug Smith, Steve LaBadie, and Brenda Friday deserve special thanks for setting up a fine program for the 60 or so people who attended.

“Content Stewards” Rather than “Content Editors”?

“Content stewards” from throughout the university who are responsible for monitoring and updating content in academic and administrative areas were the primary audience. “Content stewards” is an informal phrase used and not something I’d heard before. It does indeed capture the valuable role that these people play.

Academic Program Home Pages: Key Role in Student Recruitment First Impressions

  • As we started, the first question came from a person working in the history deparment: what content is most important to introduce an academic section? Academic program areas are critical to successful engagement with future students. Many will start their first visit with a search for academic programs offered and move directly from that page to the programs of interest.
    • What should people see in the first 5 seconds? How about a link to the courses offered and another to the faculty who teach them? And this would be a great place to introduce video stories from students majoring in the area about their experience in the program.
    • What do people not need to see in the first 5 seconds? The department mission statement is an easy choice to either eliminate or place elsewhere on the site where it does not block a quick connection to courses, faculty, and student stories.
    • Make sure the academic page has a link to an inquiry form and the admissions application. Don’t make first-time visitors go elsewhere if the academic program content motivates them to take a desired next action.

Skip Generic “Why Study…” Discipline Openings

At every university many academic areas start with a general “Why Study (name of discipline)” heading. Why is that?

  • Starting with “Why study… ” seems to assume that the primary purpose of the page is to convert visitors to the discipline on the page. These sections are almost always written in a way that could be picked up and moved to any university website.
  • Consider this alternative: assume that the person visiting the page already thinks the discipline at hand is worthy of study. Then the content focus will change.
    • Take the marketing perspective that the main goal is to convince people to study this discipline at this university. If that’s the goal, then the content should feature specifics about what makes each university’s program special.
    • Consider these possible elements for that first 5-second scan of the page: number of major and minors, if applicable; number of courses offered and number of students who take them; internships and research opportunities available.

Remember Basics for Any Web Page

Academic program pages are not immune from basic points that apply to any website.

  • Consistent navigation in each academic area is important. Visitors, especially first time visitors interested in more than one academic program, will not be happy if they have to puzzle out different navigation elements at different discipline sites. If it is politically impossible to keep navigation consistent everywhere, demand consistency within major schools and colleges.
  • Long blocks of dense text are disaster areas guaranteed to reduce the number of visitors who actually read the content on the page. Let no paragraph run longer than 5 lines. Keep every sentence as short as possible. If you feel the need to add a semi-colon to a sentence, it is likely getting too long.
  • Greet every visitor with sub-heads and bullet points on the page for quick, easy scanning.

Next “Writing Right for the Web” Webinars

Planning for the next webinars with Academic Impressions is happening right now. Mark your calendar for May 19 (Traditional Websites) and/or May 26 (Social Media and Mobile Environment).

“Writing Right for the Web” on Your Campus

Webinars are great, but the live contact on campus is even better. To bring “Writing Right for the Web” to your campus, contact me at bob@bobjohnsonconsulting.com

That’s all for now 

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