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Standards for online content authors

Soldiers raising standards

The standards on this page include non-technical standards relevant to all web authors and technical standards relevant to some web authors.

I suggest you pick and choose from the long list, adapting it to your needs.

The trend is towards using content management systems, which give web content authors more control and more responsibility. That's why I made the list pretty inclusive.

Which standards are relevant to your authors? That depends on:

  • whether you use a content management system or other publishing tool
  • if so, how the CMS is customised
  • whether authors publish their own content
  • which factors are controlled by your webmaster or IT team
  • what is already in your regular company style guide.


⇑ Be very concise: aim to reduce text by at least 50%
⇑ Use plain English.
⇑ Frontload headlines, paragraphs, links and lists.
⇑ Use short sentences (21 words maximum).
⇑ Use short paragraphs (65 words maximum).
⇑ Use "you" and "we" whenever appropriate.


⇑ Don't underline text for emphasis (underlining is reserved for links).
⇑ Don't use solid caps, italics or bold for emphasis.
⇑ Use capital letters only for:

  • initial letter of sentence or heading
  • name or title of a specific person or entity, e.g. Chief Executive Jane Smith, Ministry of Social Stability
  • acronyms and abbreviations, e.g. UNICEF.
⇑ Don't capitalise any other words.


⇑ Start every page with a unique, precise, explanatory headline.
⇑ Follow with summary, description or key message of the page.
⇑ Use frequent subheadings; write them like headlines.
⇑ Limit page size to the equivalent of 5 A4 pages.
⇑ On long pages, list subheadings at the top and bookmark them.
⇑ On long pages, provide frequent links to the top.
⇑ Restrict every page to a single topic and purpose.

Redundant, outdated and trivial content

⇑ Remove all redundant, outdated or trivial content (ROT).
⇑ Do not duplicate information that is already on another page: link to it.
⇑ Include a date on every page that needs it, within the text.
⇑ Use dates instead of relative expressions of time such as "now", "in the next six months", "shortly".
⇑ Where possible, refer to offices or roles, not individuals.
⇑ Don't use the future tense except in clearly dated news stories.
⇑ Give generic contact details, not personal names.


⇑ Make link-text self-explanatory, so people know exactly what they will find when they click.
⇑ Links must stand alone or be an item in a list. (Don't embed links in sentences.)
⇑ If a link is to a page on another web site, say so.
⇑ If a link opens a different type of file, state the type and size (e.g. PDF, 54 mb, 70 pages).


⇑ List items in the logical order for user.
⇑ Limit number of items on a list to 7 maximum.
⇑ Subdivide long lists into short lists of related items.
⇑ Provide descriptive headings.

Instructions and procedures

⇑ Separate procedures from other types of content, e.g. background information and policy.
⇑ List steps in sequential order and number them.
⇑ Use simple sentence structure: "A does B" or "Do this".
⇑ Place links to necessary forms close to steps that require them.


⇑ Use tables only for data, not for text display.
⇑ Keep tables short enough to show on a screen without scrolling.
⇑ Keep tables narrow enough to fit easily on a screen.
⇑ Don't use tables if text wraps to next line.

Searchable content

⇑ Use keywords (words used by people searching for this page) in the content .
⇑ Use keywords in the headline. Example: not "When will this happen?" but "Performance appraisal July 2005" or "Sunday service schedule".

Metadata that are the author's responsibility

⇑ Provide a unique search results title for every page.
⇑ Search results title: put specific keywords first, followed by general ones.
⇑ Search results title must tell people exactly which page they will find.
⇑ Summary metatag must describe or summarise the exact web page.


⇑ Restrict image size.
⇑ Provide alt-text for all images.
⇑ Provide a long description for all complex images (e.g. charts and graphs).

Use of Word, Excel and PDF files

⇑ Publish all important information as HTML.
⇑ Don't use PDF, Excel or Word files without clear justification.
⇑ Bookmark all PDFs and make them searchable.

Multi-page documents

⇑ Subdivide long documents into pages (guideline for maximum length: equivalent of 5xA4 pages.)
⇑ Make every page self-sufficient: it must make sense in isolation.
⇑ Provide a printable version of the entire document and of each section.
⇑ Include the name of the entire document on every page.

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