Content Style Guide: 9 Principles for Quality Content

One of the best ways to ensure that our website is user-friendly is to follow industry best practices, keep the content focused on key user tasks, and keep our content up-to-date at all times.

9 Principles of Quality Content

We have many different users with many different needs. They are novice and expert users, desktop and mobile users, people with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive impairments, non-native English speakers, and users with different cultural expectations. Following these guidelines will help ensure a better experience for all our users. They will also help us create a more sustainable website.

#1 – Content is in the Right Place

We have multiple platforms that serve different purposes. It’s important that similar content is co-located so users can more easily navigate and discover resources. It also makes it easier for us to manage our various kinds of content. See What Content Goes Where for more information.

#2 – Necessary, Needed, Useful, and Focused on Patron Needs

Focus on creating content that helps our patrons get their work done. Unnecessary content makes it harder for users to find and use our most high-value content. Remember, even pages that are buried deep within the site can still be findable via site search and search engines!

Creating and maintaining high-quality content is time-consuming. Remember that any page you create will need to be maintained regularly so be selective about what you create (don’t create more than you know you’ll be able to properly manage). Also, the more content we have, the harder it is for us to upgrade, redesign, and migrate our website.

  • Focus on creating high-value content (geared towards helping users get their work done).
  • Avoid creating “just in case” content.
  • Focus on content only the library can provide (avoid creating content that can be easily found via the open web).
  • The library website is not an archive or filing cabinet. When content is no longer needed or relevant, retire it (unpublish, delete, or archive it in the institutional repository). It may already be available in the Wayback Machine if you ever need to access it again.

 

Tip: ask yourself "what would be the risk if this content didn’t exist?" If the risk is minimal, reconsider whether or not you need it.

Tip: make a list of what tasks your users need to do and then think about how your content can help them do that. For example: "as an undergraduate student, I need to quickly find an article about the electoral college process to cite for my paper that's due in 2 hours."

#3 – Unique

Redundant content results in less usable search results, confuses users, and reduces the credibility of the library. Redundant content also creates an unnecessary maintenance burden for us. In particular, unit content should not replicate core content. If a core content page isn’t serving your needs, contact the Web Team to suggest a change.

Tip: search the library website or search Subject Guides to check and see if similar content already exists.

#4 – Correct and Complete

Content should always be accurate, up-to-date, and complete.

  • Don’t publish incomplete or place holder pages.
  • Double check that your information is correct.
  • Check that all links work and go to the right place.

#5 – Consistent, Clear, and Concise

Consistent, clear, and concise content helps ensure that our website is accessible, understandable, readable, and user-friendly. And remember that we have a diverse audience with varying language skills, knowledge about libraries, technology, etc.

Consistent

Consistent design and language will help our patrons make sense of what the library offers and inconsistencies will slow them down.

Clear

  • Purpose of the page (why it exists) should be crystal clear.
  • Content communicates clearly and is easy to understand.
  • Follow link recommendations
    • Link labels should be unique and descriptive (they should clearly tell users where they’re going).
    • Email links should show actual email addresses.
  • Follow language, voice, and tone recommendations
    • Avoid academic, formal, or complex words when simple ones will do.
    • Avoid unnecessary library jargon.
    • Avoid figurative language.
    • Use plain language.
    • Use acronyms and abbreviations only when necessary.

Tip: if describing a complex process, have a co-worker or student employee who’s unfamiliar with the task try to follow your directions.

Concise

Less is more. Users are often better served by content that is concise as opposed to exhaustively thorough. Being concise does not mean dumbing it down. The faster we can get users to the information they need, the faster they will be able to go on and get their work done. This is especially important for mobile and assistive technology users.

  • Keep it simple. According the research by the Nielsen Norman Group, simplicity wins over abundance of choice.
  • Avoid preambles and unnecessary descriptions of historical aspects, background information, or highlighting info about internal units. For example, how a service was developed, that something has existed for 12 years, that it’s done in conjunction with an internal department, etc.
  • Avoid telling users that you’re going to explain something below, instead, just explain it below (for example, “The following is a brief description about how to…”).
  • Use short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Follow language, voice, and tone recommendations
    • Avoid academic, formal, or complex words when simple ones will do.
  • Follow lists recommendations
    • Use bulleted lists to group like items together or to simplify lengthy and dense paragraphs.

Tip: as an exercise in brevity, try writing major sections of your page in under 300 characters. This will help you identify the most important bits and challenge you to be as concise as possible.

Tip: ask yourself if users must, should, may, or don’t need each piece of information on your page then focus on the musts (you can always add more content as needs arise).

Tip: “get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” — Steve Krug’s third law of usability from “Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.”

#6 – Structured

Structure your page content so patrons can get to the information they need quickly.

  • Avoid large blocks of uninterrupted text.
  • Put key information at the top of the page (don’t bury the lead).
  • Provide a clear “call to action.” If next steps are needed, don’t bury them as links in the middle of a paragraph – separate them out to draw attention to them.
  • Follow headings recommendations
    • Use descriptive headings to structure and chunk the contents of your page to enable users to quickly skim.
  • Follow lists recommendations
    • Use bulleted lists to group like items together or to simplify lengthy and dense paragraphs.

Tip: a user should be able to find the information they need on your page within a few seconds.

#7 – Discoverable and Makes Sense Out of Context

Although your webpage is actually part of a larger set of pages, it will also be accessed out of context when users encounter it via the website search results, Easy Search, and external search engines. In other words, some users may only see your one page.

  • Follow page titles recommendations
    • Page titles should be short, specific, descriptive, and in title case.
  • Avoid orphaned pages by making sure your page is linked to from another page and that path is clear.
  • Use language appropriate for the intended audience (who may be searching to find the content). If you want your content to be findable using their terms, make sure to use language our users use.

#8 – Sustainable (Future-Friendly)

In addition to being selective about the content you create, creating future-friendly (aka “evergreen”) content will help ensure your pages stay up-to-date and low-maintenance.

  • Avoid duplicating content from an outside and reliable source. For example, just link to GVSU's Information Technology site about wireless instead of creating our own pages that provides the same information.
  • Follow language, voice, and tone recommendations
    • Use future-friendly language.
  • Follow documents recommendations
    • Be selective about providing content via linked documents.
  • Don’t add custom styles or embed non-supported elements that may break over time. If you need something special, contact the Web Team.

Tip: make sure you have a content management plan and you stick to it!

 

Tip: if you need to use time sensitive language (like “a new service is coming soon”) create a calendar reminder for yourself to go back and update it when needed.

#9 – Accessible

Following the above guidelines will be helpful for users with disabilities but in particular, the following will go a long way to ensuring full accessibility.

    • Follow headings recommendations
      • Use descriptive headings to structure and chunk the contents of your page to enable users to quickly skim.
    • Follow links and buttons recommendations
      • Don’t set links to open in a new window.
      • Link labels should be unique and descriptive.
      • Buttons should have action-oriented and descriptive labels.
    • Follow language, voice, and tone recommendations
      • Use inclusive language.
    • Follow images, video, and audio recommendations
      • Use graphics in moderation.
      • Use appropriate image alt text.
      • Videos and audio should provide text-based alternatives.
    • Follow tables recommendations
      • Use tables only for tabular data.
    • Follow documents recommendations
      • Be selective about providing content via linked documents.
    • Colors used on the site were selected in part to ensure proper color contrast so don’t change default text or background colors. If you want to test your color palette for accessibility, try Color Review, a web app that gives you contrast values for any color combination.

Want more? See Accessibility Evaluation for Web Writers and 18F’s Accessibility Guide.

Your friendly Web Services Librarian

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Matthew Reidsma
Contact:
340C LIB
(616) 331-3577
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Credits

Guide content originally created by Suzanne Chapman for the University of Illinois Libraries. Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons By 4.0 license.

  • Last Updated: Jul 19, 2022 12:25 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.gvsu.edu/styleguide