Support subhead scanners
In most online contexts, people scan and deep dive to find the
information that meets their needs, then read about it. Consider a bird
of prey scanning for its next meal, then swooping in on its conquest: no
eagle ever flies without a purpose, and few visitors to the Furman
website will read without a goal. How can you offer content that
supports this behavior?
- Favor subheads that actually introduce or summarize content,
rather than merely allude to it or repeat internal terms or acronyms
that may confuse your audience.
- Maintain internal consistency: all subheads on a page should
start with the same part of speech and ideally be about the same length.
- Use the words or jargon a member of the specific audience might use when scanning the page—especially if you're addressing FAQs.
- When you can, use short, strong verbs before the main noun of the subhead.
Solve or share, don't shill
In Content Rules, Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman make that
recommendation for creating valuable content that bolsters your
authority without undermining credibility or trust. Just as good content
meets specific needs, it positions recommendations only when they meet a
need a visitor expresses through implicit or explicit action.
- Where possible, bring other voices into the conversation by quoting members of the Furman community.
- Only offer recommendations where they are relevant. Don't push
applicants to download a planning checklist if they're beyond that point
in the process.
- Maintain a human perspective by communicating your passion and using first-person pronouns.
Create a conversation
If people read content to meet a functional need, they're usually trying
to answer a question: How do I contact a professor? How do other people
do this? What classes do I need to graduate? If they come to the Furman
site with specific needs, uphold the message architecture: be a
gracious, welcoming host and make them feel comfortable with content
that's conversational and in the tone this guide describes.
- Don't hide content behind labels, buttons, or calls to action they may not understand just yet.
- Favor active voice and direct, informal statements and sentence
structures. Passive voice only hides the action in false formality,
nominalizations, and verbal excess.
- Don't confuse informality with sloppiness. Take care to maintain
consistent structures, steps, and directions if the reader is trying to
learn how to do something, follow your guidance for an activity, or
improve their process. Remember, a good host doesn't welcome someone
into a party but then disappear before introducing them to a few people
or conversation topics.
Limit page length
A website is not a book, and a webpage serves a different purpose than a
page in a book; despite the impact of IMDB.com, there's no "getting
lost" in it if the majority of your users want to resolve needs and
questions. Focused pages help them do this.
So what's a focused page versus a page of a specific length? Remember
how the "Sentence length" section in this guide advocates writing
cohesive, consistent sentences and paragraphs that fall from a single
topic, describe it, then finish. Pages can do that too. Each page should
serve a single purpose: describe a department, introduce department
faculty, describe a faculty member with full biographical information,
etc. Focus on the goal of that page, follow the guidance for cohesive
sentences, and stop when you complete the goal.
Content consultant and author Ginny Redish acknowledges users will
scroll to read more editorial content. "But they won't scroll forever.
Think of three or four scrolls' worth as the maximum length," and
cohesive writing should cut that down even more.
Write in the inverted pyramid
Longer-form copy in blog posts and emails still needs to meet the
informational needs of scanners. Much like the "Sentence length" section
describes, you'll maintain their attention if you focus and write in a cohesive, consistent manner. The inverted pyramid, a favorite of news journalists, favors this:
- Start with your lede, or the key message or point of advocacy, grounded in a personal message.
- Offer supporting points—even in bullet form under equally
scannable subheads—to draw in readers that "self-qualify" with their
- Close with less necessary information, history, and final call to action.
Consider how this plays out in an email: you should make the call to
action evident from subject and headline. By the time readers who choose
to keep reading reach the end, a button or link can merely reiterate