This guide contains the “do’s and don’ts” for writing for the web or social media, either for general use or for a specific publication, website or organization.

Do not link to or advocate for any political candidate, political party or organization outside of UW

Generally, public resources cannot be used, directly or indirectly, for attempting to influence the passage or defeat of legislation by the legislature (RCW 42.17A). This includes promotion of petitions that call for passage or defeat of legislation. Similarly, public resources cannot be used, directly or indirectly, to promote the election or defeat of a candidate for office. Similarly, don’t link to organizations or pages who advocate for any of the mentioned. 

When writing for the web, email or social media, it is easiest to avoid mentioning candidates, campaigns, legislation and petitions on UW, College or unit websites, social media or other communications channels. There are some exceptions to this, like sharing an opinion piece written by a faculty member. If you plan to mention a candidate, campaign, legislation, or petitions on a unit website, email or social media account, please contact Will Shenton ( before posting/sending. 

Personal websites and social media accounts have different rules than unit accounts.

Do not use point-of-sale links or promote non-UW products, organizations, services

As a state-funded institution, official UW/College/unit social media accounts, websites, emails and other communications channels are prohibited from directly supporting the sale or promotion of goods and services unless there is a signed memorandum of understanding in place that allows for cross-promotion. The University needs to be careful to avoid endorsing entities, products or services.  In some cases, this could impact the tax exempt treatment of the UW, but there are also UW policies disallowing endorsements. Linking to point-of-sale sites or their subsidiaries, like Amazon, university presses and other sellers of products or services is also prohibited. Generally, if it has a “purchase” button, it is not a link you should use.

However, it is ok to:

  • Mention partners in the private sector when describing their role in official University research or teaching activities. Do not link to their organization if that website includes a “buy” or “purchase” button on the page you are linking to.
  • Link to official, approved fundraising activities by the University (e.g., the Combined Fund Drive).
  • Share lists of resources that are reasonably complete (have a number of entities listed) with your internal (faculty/staff/student/postdoc) community.
  • Mention sponsors when a signed agreement is in place. Executive Order 15(f), the University’s sponsorship policy, permits sponsorships, but does not permit affiliation or endorsement of another entity.

Do not delete any comments on social media or websites

University of Washington social media accounts and website comments are a public forum, supported by public funds, and your followers and commenters are allowed to voice a broad range of opinions. In most cases, official UW accounts are strongly discouraged from hiding or deleting any comment (except those that represent a direct threat to an individual’s safety, include illegal content, or violate the privacy of individuals) or block anyone from your accounts. Similarly, don’t “fuel the fire” by responding to comments on social media posts. The decision to remove comments or block users is a serious and complex one, so please reach out to Joe Eastham, Director of Online Communications ( if you have any questions about removing comments, responding to comments or blocking users.

The only comments that can be restrained:

  • Pornography and obscenity
  • Defamation directed at an individual or individually identifiable persons (not institutions or groups of people)
  • Speech that is likely to produce imminent lawless action
  • Threats of violence directed at a specific person (but not conditional threats: “if you do X, I’ll do Y.”)
  • Substantial disruption of school activities (unlikely to be happening in a public forum, though)

Communications surrounding local/national/international events

In the wake of major local, national or international events, tragedies, policy decisions and other newsworthy situations, the question often arises as to whether University leaders at various levels should communicate about the event. Every instance is different and requires careful consideration of whether to make a statement, who makes it and, if so, in what format. At any point during the process, UW leaders and communicators are strongly encouraged to consult with College Marketing & Communications staff for information and advice. Please contact Will Shenton ( or John Meyer ( you or your leader is planning to share a message regarding current events to your community or the broader public.

Communications surrounding health challenges/death of members in community

When a member of our community is hospitalized or dies, our first priority needs to be that person and their family. If a person is hospitalized or otherwise sick, details of their illness, beyond the fact that they are on sick leave, is personal health information and is private.  Do not share additional information with others without their express permission.

In the tragic event of a death in your community, it is imperative that you do not reach out to members of your community with that information until you have confirmed with the deceased’s family that this is ok. You should also offer them the opportunity to review any emails that will be sent. Please also immediately alert John Meyer (, Will Shenton (, or Stephanie Harrington ( so we can support your community during this time.

Crisis communications

Follow the crisis communications procedures as laid out by your department. Please contact Will Shenton ( or John Meyer ( if you or your leader is planning to share a message regarding the crisis to your community or the broader public.  Our College-level crisis communications procedures should be known to your chair/director (it was part of their onboarding) and can be found on the intranet.

Best practices

Follow the College’s style guide

The College has put together a style guide to gather language, grammar and formatting standards in one place. It includes our voice and personality, an AP style overview with commonly used points and College-specific grammar and style. Units are not required to follow AP style, but we highly recommend maintaining a standard across all of your communications.

Be concise

Trim unnecessary words. Get your message clear and your word count low.

Too long

Volunteers at the University Faculty Housing Service render a useful service to new and visiting university faculty and staff requiring short- or long-term housing. (24 words)


The University Faculty Housing Service helps new and visiting faculty and staff find housing. (14)


We help new faculty and staff find housing. (8)

Use plain language

Use simple, clear language. Spell out acronyms. Avoid jargon.

Use headings and bullet points where appropriate

Some content is easier to read and more accessible when formatted as a list.

Use headings often to break up long content and make it more readable and accessible, and always use HTML/WordPress headings in descending order to structure your longform content (H1-H5).

Mind your links

No broken links

Double-check each link to ensure that it goes to the correct page.

PDF or document links – lowercase, no spaces

Whenever possible, we avoid linking PDFs or Word documents on the web. This is because most PDFs or documents can be converted to web pages that are more accessible and mobile-friendly. However, if you absolutely need to link to a PDF or Word document, make sure that the file name is in all lower-case, with no spaces. Spaces cause browsers to create %20 signs in the web address, making it hard to read. Mixed case in web addresses is also hard to read.

Bad name:


Good name:


Keep accessibility in mind

Use descriptive language in alt text

Each image should contain alt text with a short written description of the image. This is important for both accessibility and for your website’s search engine optimization. Be sure to also include alt text in social media images.

Avoid “click here.” Be descriptive.


Join us for virtual painting classes! Just <a href=“#”>click the link</a> here to register and you will receive further details on how to participate.

Too wordy and says “click the link here” which is unnecessary.


Join us for virtual <a href=“#”>painting classes</a>.

The link is direct and descriptive.

Avoid using images of text

Stick to using images with no text in them. When text that is intended to be read is presented as an image, blind or visually impaired readers may be at a disadvantage. Use alt text to replicate the text inside the image so the reader can get the full message from images of text.

Obtain written permission from everyone clearly visible in an image or video

You must collect an official UW release form from everyone whose face is clearly visible in images or video, regardless of their UW or College affiliation. 

Respect copyright and credit content creators

Sharing the work of others is an essential part of producing social media and web content, but it’s really important not to present other’s work as your own. Unless a photo, written piece, video, audio file, etc. was produced by UW faculty or staff for the purposes of external University marketing and communications, you must obtain written permission from the creator before using the content, credit the creator, and provide links as required by their copyright policies or license. Furthermore, if a license was purchased or permission obtained by anyone outside of your unit, you must confirm that your use of the content is covered. Often, permission and licenses only cover a single or limited use of the content.

If the content was created by a different UW or College unit, we strongly encourage you to reach out to the creator to ask for permission to reuse the content. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have permission to use or repurpose other’s content.

Embedding or quoting content from the University, academic or research institutions, major news outlets, YouTube, and social networks is generally ok, but you should look at the content carefully and make a common-sense judgment about whether content shared online is violating someone else’s copyright, privacy or safety.

Linking to content, except where prohibited by law or UW policy (see above), is usually ok.

Reposting/retweeting content that is already posted is usually ok.

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