Web Reading Habits

Keep in mind the ways in which web documents differ from printed ones:

  • When people read copy on a computer screen, especially if they are browsing the web, they tend to skim rather than read more carefully, line for line and word for word, as they might if reading a printed piece.
  • Readers tend to skip from one webpage to another, from one link to another, rather than reading a page from top to bottom.

Writing for the Web

Copy written for the web is most effective if it follows these general guidelines:

  • Visitors to your site should know exactly whose site it is and what its purpose is when they view your homepage.
  • Outline, organize, subordinate: Use links to take readers into deeper levels of a topic. Think of upper-level pages as summaries or abstracts to whet the reader’s appetite. Then use your links as a map of where they can go from there.
  • Use subheads when your copy runs more than one screen in length, or break copy into more pages.
  • Write short paragraphs and sentences (avoid complex sentence structures and jargon).
  • Speak directly to the reader, where appropriate (the web is more personal and informal than a book or printed magazine).
  • Spell out abbreviations and acronyms the first time you use them on each page, even if you’ve spelled them out on the home page. Think of each page as self-contained. Does it make sense if this is the one and only page on your website that someone reads?
  • Use bold subheads, illustrations, lists and other (quick-loading) visual elements to help communicate your main points.
  • Because of the increasing familiarity people have with the web, it is now acceptable to use more informal language when referring to your website. Instead of visit our website at www.colorado.edu or visit us on the web at www.colorado.edu, try visit us at www.colorado.edu.

Capitalization in Websites

We use title case in all headings that function as headlines. If it’s styled as a heading, it’s in title case. These examples are from the Strategic Relations & Communications website:

  • Events Calendar
  • Social Media Guidelines
  • Notes on AP Style

If the heading functions as a sentence, use sentence case, as in this example from Admissions:

  • Come to CU Boulder and discover what you can be.

Use title case with words in the top and sidebar navigation menus, and call-to-action and information buttons:

  • Campus Life
  • Learn More
  • Apply Now
  • Next Steps

Style notes: Always capitalize the first and last words of a heading, and capitalize all words of four letters or more:

  • Be Buffs With Us

Electronic World Names

E-world lexicon continues to change rapidly. For those of us in the editorial world, this fluidity of terms and the styling of those terms present a constant headache. The following words should be styled as you see here:

  • email
  • homepage
  • internet
  • login (noun), log in (verb)
  • log off
  • smartphone
  • web
  • webpage
  • website
  • Wi-Fi
  • World Wide Web
  • The University of Colorado Law School homepage and the law alumni page are used frequently.
  • Since its inception in 1989, the web has spawned a revolution in communications, commerce and worldwide research capabilities.

Copyright on the Web

Just because something appears on the web doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s part of the public domain. Assume, therefore, that anything and everything is copyrighted by someone. Since 1989, published material—printed matter or web-based, including photographs—is considered copyrighted whether it has a copyright notice or not. A copyright is, simply put, the legal right of authors, photographers, etc., to control the use of their own creative works.

For more information, see the CU Boulder web publishing policy.

URLs and Email Addresses

Although some confusion is possible when a URL ends a sentence and the writer adds the necessary period, most people who use the web will not be confused by this because web addresses are not allowed to end with a period or comma. Follow these guidelines for presenting URLs:

  • Do not add punctuation to an email or internet address. If an email or web address won’t fit on one line, we recommend breaking the address after a forward slash, @, or a dot that is part of the address, without inserting a hyphen.
  • Avoid URLs that are particularly lengthy and complicated.
  • Unless your website URL is case-sensitive, always use lowercase.
  • It usually is not necessary to use boldface or italic type for URLs (although these are acceptable options). Treat them as you would phone numbers.
  • If the URL seems awkwardly stuck in the middle of a sentence, try rewriting the sentence to allow for placement at the end.
  • It is not necessary to include the http:// at the beginning of URLs or the forward slashes at the end. Most browsers automatically insert these for you. For URLs that start with something other than www, use your judgment as to whether your audience will understand the absence of http://.