Writing Best Practices

Quick Writing Tips

  • Use “we” instead of “JMU Libraries” whenever possible.
  • Unless the Write to “you” (not “the student” or “the faculty member”) unless the audience is mixed using a friendly, knowledgeable voice.  
  • Write in present tense when possible. Ex: “Your instructor expects” instead of “Your instructor will expect.”  
  • Answer the question, “Why should you care?”  
  • Before readers invest their time into hearing what you have to say, they will want to know why it’s worth it. Explain these things up front. 
  • When helpful for first time visitors, start with an intro sentence to orient users to the purpose and/or content of the page  
  • Avoid passive voice by always keeping the subject first. Ex: The dog bit the boy.  
  • Write with your goal and your audience in mind.  

Simplify Wording 

  • Less is more. 
  • Avoid multi-idea sentences and paragraphs.  
  • Check readability score of text using a Readability Calculator.  
  • The higher the score, the easier it is to understand. Score should be at least 80, or approximately 15 words per sentence and 1-1.5 syllables per word. Aim for a middle school reading level or lower.  
  • Avoid using sentence fillers, especially at the beginning of sentences. Ex: “According to”, “There is a”, “It is”, “In my opinion”, “The purpose of this”, “In 2014”  
  • Delete superfluous words to avoid lengthy sentences. Ex: “We know that she can do it” can be shortened to “We know she can do it.”  
  • Use straightforward words; avoid cliches, jargon, and buzzwords. Ex: Avoid “utilize” when “use” works.  
  • Use the words your audience uses. Ex: “What to Wear” instead of “Attire.”  
  • Use the following words sparingly to make them helpful, not preachy. Ex: “Don’t forget”, “Never”, “Avoid”, “Don’t”, “Remember to.” 

Length 

  • Pages:  
    • Ideally no more than 10,000 characters.  
    • If longer, create sub-sections and make each a stand-alone page.  
  • Paragraphs:  
    • Ideally no more than 3 sentences or 6 lines.  
    • A one-line paragraph is fine.  
  • Sentences:  
    • Ideally no more than 25 words. 

JMU Libraries Writing Conventions 

  • Abbreviations: Spell out first instance and include abbreviation in parentheses, then abbreviate (e.g., James Madison University (JMU); JMU).  
  • Academic Year: Do not capitalize. (e.g., sophomore)  
  • And: Do not use “&” in body copy. (e.g., faculty and staff, not faculty & staff)  
  • Comma: Use serial comma. (e.g., Invite freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.)  
  • Date: Friday, January 1, 2016. (e.g. February 2, not February 2nd)  
  • eID: No not use hyphen or capital E.  
  • Hybrid: Not capitalized. (e.g. hybrid, not Hybrid)  
  • HyFlex: Camel case when the start of a sentence or in a heading with capitalized words. Lowercase (hyflex) when in the middle of a sentence.  
  • On-Campus/Off-Campus: These terms require a hyphen only when used as an adjective. Ex: “Students have off-campus access to online resources.” NOT “Students have access to online resources from off-campus.” In the second example, it is not used as an adjective, so the hyphen should be removed. 
  • Range: Use hyphen except when preceded by the word “from.” (e.g., Between 12-15 credits; e.g., Open from May 2 to 4)  
  • Respondus LockDown Browser: LockDown in camelcase (e.g. LockDown, not Lockdown)  
  • Webex: Do not use capital E. (e.g., Webex, not WebEx)  

Additional Resources