On Wording for Webpages

I frequent the University Web Developers social network and try to keep up with what is being talked about there. Mainly this has to do with my current work as a webmaster/web developer/web person at Martin Luther College, but it doesn’t take much to take some of the discussions going on there and expanding them to the web as a whole.

One recent discussion has focused around the wording for a particular part of the website that has to do with student housing. The question boils down to this: do you use the name of the department or something that more generically points to the purpose of the area of the site.

The two phrases being tossed about were “Residence Life” or “Housing.” A third term was brought in by someone else, “Dorms” later on, but my thoughts are the same regardless: go with what a person would actually be thinking of when they come to your site. I don’t know of anyone who is going to come to the site and think “I really need to find out more about residence life.” However, I can imagine (because I did this myself) that people would come thinking about “student housing” or “dorm life” and both of those would fall under the simpler terms.

When presented with options on how to word things, try and go with what is the more clear and will speak the clearest to your intended audience. Sometimes trying to be consistent (with department names) can cause more confusion and ultimately lead to more problems than was intended.

Clarity for the user should trump almost everything else.

One reply on “On Wording for Webpages”

I agree with you Bob that clarity for the user should trump just about everything else, however having worked in the ResLife field I note that this is a highly common discussion throughout campuses with any sort of student housing.

The particulars come from this: few if any colleges maintain “dormitories” anymore (at least according to the professionals in the field) as a dorm is nothing but a sleeping place; where a “residence hall” is a much more complex experience giving people a community, activities and such. Thus the field is called Resident Life, as opposed to Dorm Life or whatever.

So if I were to respond to the post I would note something about how it should be “student housing” used to describe what they want in this case; perhaps noting somewhere the definitions of Resident Life & Dormitory. I find Dorm or Dorm Life to be too restrictive for the aforementioned reasons, while Resident Life is much too broad because while accurate it doesn’t describe what the user is looking for.

It is my thought that more than likely, 9 times out of 10, a use looking for Resident Life will probably still click on a Student Housing link, knowing that it will probably take them if not to the answer then in the right direction; I can’t say the same thing for Resident Life.

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