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LibGuide Author Style Guide: Writing

Preferred practices for LibGuide authors

Writing for the Web

Start with your key message

Identify your key message, and put it first. Peolple tend to scan web pages rather than read them closely, so consider putting your main point in the first paragraph, or better yet, in the heading. This in known at the "inverted pyramid style" used regulary by journalists and technical writers. more>>


An inverted pyrymid style (firgure 1) requires a major shift in thinking and writing. Most of us were taught to write in a narrative style, developing an essay in a logical order that concludes with a main point. However, most Web users want the conclusion first. In addition, blind users prefer this style because it allows them to scan Web content with their ears. (Redish: 2012)

Figure 1. Inverted pyramid style


Break down walls of words

  • Avoid large blocks of text
  • Very short paragraphs work best
  • Each small section needs it own heading

 (Redish: 2012)

Word Choice

Terms most often misunderstood by users:

  • Acronyms
  • Brand names
  • Database
  • Library Catalog
  • E-journals
  • Index
  • Interlibrary Loan
  • Periodical
  • Serial
  • Reference
  • Resource
  • Broad subject categories such as Humanities or Social Sciences

Terms most often understood by users:

  • Find books, Find articles, and other combinations using natural language "target words" 
  • Terms accompanied by additional words that expand on their meaning

Best practices

Avoid terms that users misunderstand.

If you must use terms such as acronyms, brand names, Catalog, or Database, expect that significant number of users will not interpret them correctly.

Use natural language equivalents on top-level pages 

such as Borrowing from Other Libraries instead of Interlibrary Loan, or a Find Books option in addition to the library catalog name. Whenever possible, include "target words", such as Book or Article, that correspond to the end product the user is seeking. When needed, introduce more precise technical terms on lower-level pages.

Enhance or explain potentially confusing terms.

Use additional words and/or graphics to provide a meaningful context. Where appropriate, use tips or annotations -- but don't count on users pausing to read them. Provide glossaries of library terms, or "What's this?" explanations of individual terms.

Provide intermediate pages

when a top-level menu choice presents ambiguities that can't be resolved in the space available. For example, have your Find Books link lead to a page offering the local catalog, system or consortium catalog, e-books, WorldCat, etc.

Provide alternative paths

where users are likely to make predictable "wrong" choices. For example, put links to article databases in your online catalog and on your Find Journals page

Be consistent

to reduce cognitive dissonance and encourage learning through repetition. Use terms consistently throughout your website, and if possible in printed materials, signage, and the actual names of facilities and services.

(Kupersmith: 2012)

Headings (h1, h2, h3, h4, etc.)

Using HTML headings enhances usability

"Heading structure provides information about how a document is organized. Headings (h1, h2, h3, h4, etc.) are a vital component of building web-delivered content. Headings are not just for visual effect – they provide important clues as to how information on a web page is organized. Screen reader users can navigate web pages via headings, just as sighted users can skim a page by focusing on these headings, but it's important that headings be coded correctly and not just be text that is larger and bolder." (Comden, 2014)

Using LibGuide headings effectively

In LibGuides, the link in our banner to our home page is an <h1> heading; All box headings are <h2> headings.  
For content Inside boxes, use <h3> & <h4> headings to organize content. Headings may be applied using the Format pull-down in the "Rich Text/HTML" editor (see Figure 1 below)

Figure 1: Use the headings options under the Format drop-down menu

Figure 1: Use the headings options under the Format drop-down menu.

Writing useful headings 

  • Choose a good heading style and stick to it
  • Use statements, verb phrases, or questions
  • Use nouns and noun phrases sparingly
  • Keep headings short
  • Begin questions with at keyword.
  • Use imperatives or gerunds

(Redish: 2012)