Common content mistakes and how to fix them
Part of the work done by members of digicomms is ensure all content on the University’s website meets digital standards. In particular, any text on the website or in print materials must meet the University’s house style. Here are some of the most common mistakes found when the team check over content.
Use of first person
The singular form of the first person is ‘I’ and the plural form is ‘we’. When first person is used, it comes across as if the writer is speaking on the University’s behalf, whereas the writer is usually speaking from the perspective of a particular School or Department.
An undefined speaker can confuse users, who may assume certain information is applicable across the University, when in fact it isn’t.
Example: “We offer regular feedback, with a view to improve your education. Our staff can help with a range of course-related issues”.
The problem language in the example sentence is the use of “We” and “Our”. A more user-friendly way of writing the sentence would be:
“The Department provides regular feedback with a view to improve your education. Staff can help with a range of course-related issues.”
On University pages, digicomms recommend that all content is written in second and third person, including staff profile pages.
Find out more about why we avoid writing in first person.
Incorrect link placement
Within digital standards, there is a whole section dedicated to the University’s links policy. This policy highlights the best ways to include links in any form of digital content. The most common link error is when the full URL is included within the text, or when the incorrect anchor text has been used. For example:
- Example 1: “For more information relating to house style, see http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/digital-standards/service-manual/house-style/“
- Example 2: “For more information regarding house style, click here.”
The correct way to include the link is to integrate it within the text, and ensure the supporting anchor text accurately indicates to the user where the link is going to take them. For example:
- “Find out more information about the University’s house style.”
Integrating links this way helps with usability as users scan web pages looking for information about what is on a page and where to go next. It is essential to use links and good anchor text to provide accurate information.
Too many capital letters
The capital letter section in the house style is one of the longest on the page. Typically, most capital letter offences are in headings – all headings on the website need to be sentence case. That is, the beginning of the heading needs to start with a capital letter and then all following letters need to be lowercase.
Example: “Optional Degree Routes” should instead read “Optional degree routes”.
Another frequent issue with capital letters is the capitalisation of team names: “The Digital Communications Team” is incorrect, it should read “the digital communications team”.
Capital letters should be used only for the start of sentences and headings and for genuine proper nouns. Adding a capital letter to the start of every word can make the text harder to read, and impedes users who are quickly scanning the text.
Long, unformatted lists
In general, when it comes to long streams of text, best practice dictates that it’s best to break it up. This can be done with headings, adding additional paragraphs or by using lists where necessary. However, there is a right and a wrong way to list information on the University’s website.
Example: “Students have the opportunity to travel to a number of countries, such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Ukraine, France and Greece.
The correct way to format this is to ensure each list item (country) makes up a bullet point list. For example:
“Students have the opportunity to travel to a number of countries, such as:
Each item in a bullet point list should start with a capital letter and end with a full stop unless it is a phrase of three words or fewer. If each list item is fewer than three words, the final item in the list should end with a full stop.
If the correct grammar or spelling of a word or phrase isn’t in the house style, check out The Guardian and Observer style guide for best practice.