Writing for the Library

Getting Started

The hardest part about writing is often getting started. It’s sometimes easiest to sit down and spill out everything you think you have to say, edit it, leave it alone for a while, and then come back and edit it some more. If you’re having trouble, write down the most straightforward statement you can make on your subject and start there.

Keep it Short

Readers prefer their content short and to the point. Especially on the web, people don’t read, they scan. For maximum impact, aim to write in short, clear sentences. Remove information that is unnecessary. Write text in declarative sentences, using active voice to draw the reader in. Watch for overuse of adjectives and adverbs.

Skip long introductions and get to the point immediately. A brochure or webpage, for instance, should be constructed like a news story, using inverted pyramid style of writing: most important information first, all other information following.

Easy on the Jargon

We’re used to Library jargon and acronyms, but it’s important to to keep those out of writing when possible. The inner workings of the Library may not make sense to the audience, and they really only need to know one thing: what’s in it for them.

If you must use an acronym, make it transparent to the reader by spelling it out and putting the acronym in parentheses on the first reference.

Example:
Academic Preservation Trust (APTrust).

Appearance

If your text is complex, consider breaking it into different sections so that your reader can easily absorb the information. Use subheadings above each section, and try to keep your paragraphs under 50 words whenever possible.

Accuracy

Before printing any publication, use spell-check (but never take the suggestions indiscriminately—they can be wrong). However, don’t allow spell-check to take the place of a human editor (or two). Ask your colleagues to give your work a second look, as it is often difficult to proofread your own writing. If no editors are available, take some time away from the publication, come back to it, and read it once more before printing.

Web-specific Content

Again, skip introductions and get to the point immediately. Make sure that no part of your content is already available on another webpage. Make sure the content deserves its own page—if the text is short and relevant to other information, consider adding it to an existing page. Always remove information that is redundant and, if necessary, replace with links to the existing information.

When linking text, choose a noun or noun phrase if possible. Only link to a verb or verb phrase if necessary to avoid confusion. Do not use “click here” as a web link.

Example:
Incorrect: Please click here to see the Library Style Guide.
Correct: Please see the Library Style Guide.

When in Doubt  . . .

Keep it short. The objective is to get your point across as economically as possible.