It’s old news but good news: between August 2018 and January 2019 we did a major overhaul of the front section of our undergraduate prospectus 2020 (PDF).
Here’s a summary of what we did and why. I’m mainly going to cover the content-side rather than the design-side, which will be a separate blog post.
The purpose of the front section
The front section of our prospectus gives an overview of the University and the city. It could form a prospective student’s first impression of York (although we know a lot of students start their journey online – I’ll come back to that later). The main aims of the content are to:
- Showcase York’s distinctive experience, convey our brand values and show the real personality of York – so students can find out whether York is a good fit for them.
- Inspire and excite students to seriously consider York, and to set their expectations.
- Create a compelling and genuine overview about the quality of the York experience, and encourage students to find out more about us online and/or meet us at an event.
- Provide useful practical information and advice, from fees and funding to accommodation and how to apply.
- Complement our online content, which should have the same messaging and tone of voice.
The printed prospectus gets used by our Student Recruitment and Admissions team at events on and off campus, including Open Days, talks in schools and colleges, and study fairs in the UK and abroad. Prospective students can also download a PDF copy, or request a printed copy via the website.
Prospectus in numbers
To set the scene, I thought it would be useful to highlight some key numbers:
- 51 pages in the front section
- ~55 days spent developing the content (on top of this there is also time spent on graphic design, photography, project management and by the subject matter experts checking the content)
- 37 information providers (staff who needed to check the factual accuracy of the content – massive thank you again to everyone involved in this!)
- 16 profiles/quotes (mainly from current students, as well as quotes from a graduate and an academic)
- 3,779 PDF downloads (Feb–Aug 2018 for the 2019 prospectus)
- 7,539 requests for a printed copy in 2018 (compared to 13,511 in 2015)
- 77,691 unique pageviews of the undergraduate landing page (Feb–Aug 2018)
This not only highlights how big this piece of work is, it also shows some interesting statistics around it’s use compared to online content.
There is an interesting but not surprising trend in PDF downloads and requests for printed copies decreasing and an intriguing comparison with web traffic (much bigger numbers). This doesn’t mean we no longer need a printed prospectus though, and leads on nicely to what we changed and why…
One of the major changes we made was reducing the amount of copy. We did this for a few reasons:
- To make the content more digestible and usable, which also allowed for more white space and images.
- The detailed content is online so we wanted to give more of an overview in the prospectus and drive readers online for a fuller picture.
- Less copy will make it easier to update next year (or should I say this year – we’ll be starting the 2021 prospectus shortly).
We worked closely with subject matter experts and carefully considered the level of detail needed in print vs online content. We haven’t lost lots of information – we’ve just made the content more concise and punchy.
The rewrite was managed through GatherContent – an online tool we use for content collaboration. We’ve been using it for digital projects for a while, and now use it for a lot of print projects. GatherContent keeps all your content in one place. Reviewers can check the content, respond to queries and discuss changes with other subject matter experts.
Using GatherContent makes sure all the changes are transparent to everyone involved and means things don’t get lost in emails or other documents. It also means the content has had a lot of eyes on it before it gets to the design stage. This means the text is in a really good shape by that point and – other than final polishing and any last minute factual changes or new additions – it makes the design stage less faffy.
The student voice
We also wanted to amplify the student voice. Although we had a lot of quotes in the previous prospectus, there were some inconsistencies around the style. This time round we had a word count and worked even closer with our in-house photographer on the imagery to go with the profiles.
Gathering the quotes was time consuming both in terms of editing the quotes and also sourcing them to ensure a good balance of different topics, academic subject areas and demographics. We re-used some quotes from the previous prospectus and got new quotes including a student on work placement at Amazon, a graduate who had been through one of our widening participation programmes, a graduate working in Antarctica, and much more!
Some other changes include:
- Enhanced city content including a student view of the city
- Improved teaching content – leading on TEF Gold and with a quote from Dr Glenn Hurst from the Department of Chemistry
- Moving the contents page from page 4 to page 1 and simplifying it to make the prospectus easier to navigate
- An Instagram-style ‘life on campus’ spread.
One of the biggest challenges around updating our content for prospective students is around aligning our online and print materials.
At the moment we have two processes for gathering the information for printed prospectus and online /study pages and we need to look at ways of improving this. This will free up more time to focus on the ongoing enhancement of our digital content and it will save time for information providers who are checking content for different materials.
Plans for 2021/20
We’re just about to kick off the early stages of our undergraduate prospectus for 2021 entry. For the front section we expect to focus on updating our student and alumni profiles, student life imagery and potentially adding some additional content around widening participation.
As ever, we’d really welcome your ideas and feedback in the comments or via firstname.lastname@example.org