Digital Branch Style Guide

Thought someone might find this useful – it’s the styleguide we use for my library’s digital branch! It’s a long document, broken up into these sections:

  • General Guidelines for Blog Posts
  • Citing/Attribution
  • Featured Section
  • Comments – What to do with them
  • Creating a “Voice”
  • How Can I Get a Conversation Started?
  • I have a suggestion/problem. What do I do with it?
  • Staff Responsibilities

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Digital Branch Style Guide

Please follow these guidelines when writing blog posts on our public website. This document is a start – I hope to add to it as needed. Notice something glaringly obvious that I haven’t listed? Email it to me.

General Guidelines for Blog Posts

Post frequency/length:

  • Frequency:
    • 2 posts per week for each Subject Guide
    • Posts in the Services section – as needed
  • Length:
    • sufficient to cover topic
    • shorter is always better – just enough to cover the content

Formatting:

  • one space between sentences – not two!
  • avoid ALL CAPS
  • use a spell checker
  • break post into small paragraphs rather than one large chunk of text

Post titles:

  • keep them short, snappy, and descriptive
  • capitalize every word except prepositions (like a book title)

Internal Post Structure:

  • Bulleted lists are great
  • Subheads are great – helps people quickly scan content
  • Images that complement article tend to attract readers

specific words – Be consistent with these terms:

  • email (all one word, all lowercase)
  • website (all one word, all lowercase)
  • webpage (all one word, all lowercase)
  • web (lowercase)
  • Internet (uppercase “I”)
  • Our library – first reference is “Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.” Second reference is “the library.”
  • Our website is “the Digital Branch.”
  • Refer to our Neighborhoods by their full title (i.e., the Travel neighborhood, the Health Information neighborhood)

Summary of post

  • Each post should have a summary – there are two ways to do this:
    • Create a summary paragraph in the summary box
    • Leave the summary blank – the beginning of the post will automatically be used as the summary

Tags:

  • Use 2-3 descriptive tags for each post
  • Tags are usually keywords that are descriptive of the content of a post
  • These should be different from a category. Ex – a post could be in the Books Subject Guide with a Category of Sci-Fi, and have tags like Steampunk, Robots, and Mars.

Links:

  • For book titles
    • make the book title the link text
    • don’t include the URL with the book title
      • Do this: The Hobbit (where “The Hobbit” is the text used for the link)
      • Don’t do this: The Hobbit – http://catalog.tscpl.org/asdfhasdf/etc.htm (where “The Hobbit” is NOT the link text, but the URL is also used as the link text)
  • Other links
    • When linking to webpages or blog posts, make the webpage title or the blog article title the link text
    • Refer to the link within a sentence, like this: “Topeka has a great library that everyone should visit.” (“great library” would be the link text used for our library’s URL)
    • Another example: don’t write “you can read the full report here” – using words like “here” or “click here” is generally bad practice. Instead, say “the charity released a report, which said…” (“a report” is the link text, and is incorporated within the sentence). This type of internal link reads better.

Citing / Attribution

It’s important to give proper attribution to sources, even online. Here’s how to do it:

  • Blog posts, newspaper articles, other websites
    • See the Links section above for linking
    • When you quote someone else’s text, make sure to link to the original source.
    • With the link to the original source, reference the site. For example, say “Here’s a lovely article on the Topeka Ave. bridge project (from the Topeka Capital Journal).” “Lovely article” links to the specific article, and “Topeka Capital Journal” links to the newspaper’s main site.
  • Images
    • If using an image from flickr, photobucket, or some other photo sharing service, include some type of attribution/pointer back to the original photo at the end of the article (i.e., “photo courtesy of JimBob” – “JimBob” would link back to the original photo).
    • Use photos with a Creative Commons license when possible
  • Videos
    • Include some type of link/attribution/pointer back to the original video (i.e., link back to the YouTube video if you use a video from YouTube)
  • How much of a quote can I do?
    • The U.S. Copyright Office FAQ on fair use (http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html) says this: “it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work.”
    • Don’t quote the whole thing!

Featured Section

The Featured Section is structured this way:

The first Feature Box is called Featured.

  • It features big programs, events and special features of the library.
  • Populated by PR and Event Resources

Guidelines for the other Feature Boxes:

  • The other feature boxes include Books, Research, Movies & Music, Gallery, Kids, and Teens.
  • These sections usually focus on content (Gallery, Kids and Teens boxes can post about a program)
  • Handouts, booklists, links should be part of that post. No programs with registration and limits should be posted there.

Comments – what to do with them?

  • respond
    • thank them for their comment
    • add something if possible – point to another similar book, a link on our site, etc.
    • if it’s a question, answer it
    • if it’s a criticism, answer it – or refer it to someone who Can respond appropriately
    • If the comment is negative, don’t repeat it! Respond without repeating the negative question/comment.
  • In general, don’t edit the comment. Usually, it’s better to correct in another comment. Only edit if the comment:
    • Has “bad” words (that our automatic naughty word filter didn’t catch)
    • Is derogatory
    • Has an unrelated link
  • delete if spam. For example: “I have checked that really there was great information regarding that. There was another also – http://healthbeautyproduct.blogspot.com/” is a spam comment. Usually, spam comments include this type of stuff:
    • poor grammar (sounds like they don’t really know the language)
    • PLUS links to unrelated websites
  • What to do if you don’t know what to do – ask the web team to read the comment.

Creating a “Voice”

  • Write in a conversational tone:
    • goal is to start conversations
    • if you wouldn’t say it in conversation, don’t write it
    • write “friendly” – just like we are at the desk!
  • Use active voice. Example – don’t write “The tree was struck by lightning.” Instead, write “Lightning struck the tree.”
  • Use inverted pyramid writing style (explanation at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_pyramid)
  • The first couple of sentences of your post displays as the summary, and appears in various places on our site as teasers to the whole article – so make it snappy!
  • Write in present tense when possible. Ex:
    • Don’t write “the book signing will be held next Tuesday”
    • Instead, write “the book signing is next Tuesday”

How Can I Get a Conversation Started?

Here are a couple of ideas on getting conversations started on your blog.

  • Write great content (always top priority)
  • Take part in the conversation:
    • read blogs and Topeka-area newspapers that allow comments
    • read blogs in your area of expertise
    • leave comments on those blogs, linking to your post in the comment
    • also link to those blogs in your post
  • Focus your posts on goals:
    • Before you write, answer this – “what do you want the reader to do?”
    • Provide a call to action (ie., tell them what you want them to do)
    • Ask for a response
    • Point them to things (like books in our catalog)

I have a suggestion/problem. What do I do with it?

Problems:

  • email the web team
  • tell us what’s wrong
  • include links or descriptive text if possible

Ideas for the site:

  • Email the web team/Digital Branch Manager:
    • Include description of idea
    • Digital Branch Manager will set up meeting if needed, share idea with web team and/or Managers, etc
    • Remember – all ideas are great, but not all ideas will be implemented on the site
  • hold regular meetings
    • i.e.., fun in Topeka blog meeting
    • discuss ideas
    • make suggestions to the web team

Staff Responsibilities

Blog moderator

  • make sure there are 2 posts per week
  • encourage writers
  • check in with Digital Branch Manager periodically
  • schedule regular meetings of content area
  • all the blog author stuff

Blog authors

  • write posts
  • check links
  • respond to comments
  • delete spam
  • periodically touch base with blog moderator

Digital Branch Manager

  • big picture development of branch
    • strategic planning
    • trend watching
  • talking to internal groups
  • talking to external groups
  • mentoring digital branch staff
  • developing new content areas and unique services and tools

Web Team

  • Webmaster/designer and Web Developer
  • designs new pages
  • keeps design fresh
  • day to day operations
  • maintenance and upgrades
  • builds new stuff