I previously reviewed two programs on LibGuides and UX principles. Although these programs were helpful, they didn’t answer some basic questions I had about creating LibGuides.
After doing some follow-up research, I came up with my own list of best practices. I don’t intend for this list to be comprehensive. For example, I don’t discuss accessibility because that would require a separate post.
I also recognize that opinions vary on some topics. And of course, there can be instances when particular guidance is not applicable. Think of this list as a few key ideas that I found helpful enough to share.
- General subject guides confuse many students; they are unsure of how or why to use them. Make the purpose of your guide clear.
- Course-specific guides are better received by students than general subject guides, especially when the course guides are tied to class presentations.
- Curated guides with well-crafted resource descriptions and instructional content are more useful than guides that simply list many resources.
- Content should be scannable. Write with a goal of providing useful information, not drafting a full document.
- Don’t fill your guide with too much “just in case” information.
Tone and Language
- Think about your brand voice. Consider creating a This But Not That list. The University of Arizona Libaries have an example of this sort of list as part of their web content principles and guidelines.
- Your tone should be conversational. In fact, you might try using a voice-to-text app to create rough first drafts of some information.
- Don’t overuse polite language; crisp, active language is better. Don’t waste time “welcoming” users to your guide.
- Refer to the library as “we” and the guide user as “you.”
- Avoid jargon and acronyms. That advice applies to the LibGuides themselves. Don’t call them LibGuides; call them research guides or something similar.
- If you have several levels of headings, be sure there is a clear visual distinction between the levels.
- Don’t let headings float. This means headings should be close to the text that they introduce.
- Limit tab headings to around three or fewer words.
- Questions can make good headings for boxes and content within boxes.
- Review your headings to see if they provide a roadmap to your content.
- Side tabs are the preferred format.
- Your guide’s layout should reflect the tendency of users to scan pages in an F-shaped pattern.
- Stick to around 3 to 7 side tabs (pages). Use sub-tabs (sub-pages) sparingly.
- Because users mostly ignore content below the left-side menu, that space should only include contact or guide author information. Users also unconsciously associate the far-right column with ads, so don’t put important content there.
- Users hate excessive scrolling. Tabbed boxes can minimize scrolling. It takes a little coding, but you might also want to add columns to your boxes in some circumstances.
- Another way to minimize scrolling is to create a menu at the top of the page to allow users to “jump” to the content they seek.
Look and Feel
- Style and presentation matter. People are less likely to use a cluttered or confusing guide.
- Stick to a simple color scheme. Highlight colors have the most impact when used sparingly.
- Images, bold text, and interactivity are all useful tools. A little goes a long way; all three are easy to overdo.
- Break information into lists. Most lists should have 7 or fewer items. Also use headings and subheadings to “chunk” content.
- Don’t go overboard with lists. Some instructional content in guides is best presented in short paragraphs. Consider alternating between short paragraphs and lists.
- Make sure you are using parallel structure for headings, tabs, and text. Tip 7 of the MIT Guide referenced below has a good example of parallel structure.
- Consider having a “Home” page that is largely devoted to a short list of essential resources. There is a mix of opinions as to whether you should also provide a “roadmap” of the guide on that page.
- The LibGuides search box confuses users. There are sound arguments for eliminating it from your guides.
- Avoid creating “click here” links.
- Don’t rely on the publisher’s or vendor’s description of a book or database. Write your own description using short sentences and active verbs. Explain how the resource benefits your users.
Editing and Reviewing
- Make sure that your guide adheres to your institution’s style manuals.
- Ask someone who is unfamiliar with a task to follow instructions provided in your guide.
- Check your writing using one or more tools such as the Hemingway App, Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Wordtune, or Word’s Editor.
- Use Word’s Read Aloud feature (or a similar resource) to check your writing. Do this toward the end of your editing process.
Here are a few of the resources I relied upon in creating my list.
- Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug
- Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
LibGuides Best Practices Guides
- Best Practices for LibGuides (UCLA Libraries)
- Best Practices Research Guide (CSU Libraries)
- LibGuides Best Practices (IUPUI Libraries)
- LibGuides Standards and Best Practices (BC Libraries)
- Tips and Best Practices for Creating a Well-Designed Guide (MIT Libraries)
Web Writing Style Guide
- Student-Centered Design: Creating LibGuides Students Actually Use (Kennesaw State University Library)
- The Gap Between Student and Subject Guide: Findings from Usability Testing (James Madison University Libraries)
Checklists and Tip Sheets
- LibGuides Checklist for Peer Review (IUPUI Libraries)
- LibGuides Publishing Checklist (BC Libraries)
- LibGuides Tips of the Week (James Madison University Libraries)
- Research Guides Refresh Checklist (CSU Libraries)
- Tips and Best Practices PDF (MIT Libraries)
- User Experience and Design Best Practices for LibGuides (CSU Libraries)
- Web Content Checklist (Duke Universities Libraries)