Content Requirements and Best Practices

Here are requirements and best practices to keep in mind as you create and enter content for OSU Extension. Most of these apply to the Extension website and elsewhere, such as OSU WordPress blogs and college or department websites.

Planning and Evaluating Content

Before you enter content, you should evaluate whether that content is appropriate to put online. All content should:

  • Have a purpose or goal that aligns with your team’s strategy
  • Have a defined audience and be appropriate for that audience
  • Align with the digital strategy’s requirements and guiding principles
    • Structured: entered in a format that makes sense and is consistent
    • Atomic: separated into the smallest sensible pieces
    • Customer-focused: uses language and concepts that are familiar to visitors
    • Mobile-friendly: deliverable to a variety of screen sizes without degradation
    • Data-informed: creation and development based on available data
    • Relevant: information is up-to-date and meets visitors’ needs
    • Right people doing right things: written, reviewed, entered, and maintained by the appropriate people and groups
  • Not duplicate content that already exists online

    • Before entering content into the Extension website, please use the Site Content Overview page to make sure it doesn’t already exist.
    • When entering content, you can see a list of existing content with similar titles in the right-hand section of the screen:

    Duplicate Content Screenshot

    • If the content you want to enter already exists, contact the person who uploaded it and ask them to make the necessary edits. See Working with Other Content Authors. If the content is on another website, consider linking to it instead.

Writing for the Web

Many Extension faculty and staff are skilled in academic research writing or in writing program materials. This type of content often needs to be altered to accommodate the way that people use information online.

Here are some tips for writing effective web content:

  • Keep it as short as possible. Remove words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages that aren’t necessary.
  • Separate content into chunks using lists, headings, and paragraph breaks.
  • Don’t over-emphasize. When everything on a page is emphasized, nothing stands out. Avoid overuse of bold, italics, and large or colored fonts. The best way to bring attention to something is to have less other stuff on the page to compete with it (see the first tip).
  • Use good writing style as you would with any other piece of writing.
    • Use proper spelling and grammar.
    • Try to use active verbs.
    • Begin a piece with something interesting and lead with important points.
    • Make titles descriptive and compelling.
    • Limit acronyms and jargon.
  • Use clear language by writing simple, straightforward descriptions whenever possible, especially when translation is not an option. This also makes content more usable for youth, people with low-literacy, English language learners, and people with certain learning or intellectual disabilities. Hemingway App is a good tool to check the readability of your content. The Plain Language guide also provides other tips.
  • Set up a review process so that content stays up to date and is accurate. (For some content teams, this may include peer review.)
  • Follow OSU and Extension brand guidelines. The OSU Brand Guide and the Extension Style Guide have information about messaging and tone for written pieces.

Here is a quick summary of the differences between writing for print media and writing for the web:

Topic Print version Web version
Access “Print-friendly PDF” button on the website Remember, our audience is literally reading this on a phone.
Reading level Write to 10th-to 12th-grade reading level Write to 8th-to 12th-grade reading level
Audience segment Write to clearly identified section of audience: producers, stewards, advocates, learners Write to clearly identified section of audience: producers and learners
Length Flexible length 50% shorter. For longer articles, include an overview or summary.
Tables Complex tables OK Simpler tables with accessible HTML
Design standards Meets print design standards (High resolution, lots of images, data graphics). Widows, line breaks, and alignment matter. Good visual hierarchy. Meets web design standards (lower resolution with alt text, screen readable). Teaser text to draw in readers. Tagging/keywords added.
Structure More flexible narrative format, but use short sentences. Inverted pyramid style preferable. Lead with the most important points, or make important points stand out with pull quotes or separate lines.
Headlines Compelling headlines Headlines front-load keywords. They’re straightforward and compelling, not cutesy. Shorter is better.
Sections Break up text with photos, graphics and subheads Break content into short, readable chunks. Liberal use of subheads, bullet points and boldface.
Voice and tone Voice and tone: depends on complexity of topic. Avoid passive voice. Voice and tone reflect OSU branding. Welcoming, helpful, conscientious, progressive. Okay to use second person pronouns.
References Include resources and references at the end using AP or Chicago style for citations Link to other relevant content (but never say “click here”)
Acronyms Acronyms OK. (Chicago Style) Limit acronyms
Sentences Full sentences required. Phrases and partial sentences okay.
Content Storytelling and illustrative examples common. Specific actionable information preferred (unless a story or news content type).

Based on UX research from Nielson Norman Group.

Diversity and Inclusion

OSU’s Strategic Plan 4.0 places a strong emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion in education and programs. There are several things to keep in mind to ensure that our web content is inclusive of all the audiences we serve.

Accessibility

Accessibility means that content is available to and used by a diverse variety of visitors. Often, it specifically refers to making a site useable by people with disabilities. However, it can also apply to others, including:

  • People using small screens on mobile devices
  • English-language learners and automatic translators that may be used by non-English speakers
  • People of diverse ages
  • Non-human visitors to the site, such as search engine crawlers

As an institution that receives federal funding, we are legally required to make content and services accessible. See OSU’s IT Accessibility Policy. Here are some guidelines to make sure content is accessible:

  • Use text editor controls for what they were intended. Many assistive technologies depend on text formatting to give structure and meaning to content. Therefore, it’s important to use formatting only when appropriate. For example, don’t create a “fake” heading by just making text bold. On the other hand, don’t use the heading formatting (e.g. Heading 2, Heading 3) just to emphasize text. Headings should reflect the structure of the content.

    Heading Dropdown Screenshot

  • Don’t put important text in images. People with visual impairments can have trouble reading text that is part of an image. Text in images also cannot be translated by automatic translators or scanned by search engines. Text in images such as event flyers and diagrams should also be typed in another field on the content, such as the description field on an event. If you must put text in an image, also type that text in the image’s alternative (“alt”) text field.

  • Use meaningful labels for links. It is important that the text in a link makes sense and describes what the link does. If the link gets broken, you will find it easier to locate the resource again if the link includes the title of the missing page. Assistive technologies often read link text by itself to help speed up browsing. Also, search engine crawlers put more weight on keywords in link text.
    • You should never use a “raw” URL. For example, instead of “www.google.com,” use “Google.” See Using the Site for how to create links in text areas.
    • The same thing applies to email addresses. Instead of “Contact Jane Doe at jane.doe@oregonstate.edu,” just put “Contact Jane Doe.”
    • We also encourage you to link to a person’s profile instead of an email address if possible (type their name in the link field and select from the list that shows up). This has several benefits:
      • Makes it less likely for spam bots to find and abuse the email address.
      • Profile links go to an online form which results in less errors than clicking on an email link.
      • Profiles also give several methods of getting in touch with someone for visitors that prefer one method over the others.
    • Avoid links that contain the phrase “Click here.” This is not descriptive enough and is inaccurate for people who are not using a mouse.
  • Avoid text in all caps. This makes text difficult to pronounce for screen readers (they may mistake it for an acronym). It is also more difficult to read for people with dyslexia.
  • Use tables only for tabular data. Tables are complex structures that are difficult for assistive technologies to understand. Only use them when necessary—for example, when presenting tabular data. Don’t use tables for formatting text in columns. Two-column sections on pages can accomplish this.

Here are some more University resources to help you create accessible electronic content:

Other Strategies

While accessibility makes sure that all people can access content, there are other things we need to do to make sure content is appropriate and inclusive once the reader has found it.

  • Content creation: When creating content, recognize different perspectives and include topics that are relevant to diverse communities.
  • Free access: If you are publishing content in academic journals, consider publications that do not require a subscription to read. That way everyone can have access when you link to it from the website. OSU’s Open Access policy passed by the Faculty Senate in 2013 retains copyright to the post-peer review, pre-typeset versions of faculty articles so that they can be made available in open access repositories like ScholarsArchive@OSU and on the Extension website. This also includes articles where OSU is only one of the authors.
  • Content translation: Provide materials if needed to non-English speaking populations, and tag content with the language it is written in. In the next phase of development, Extension Communications will investigate the possibility of implementing an automatic translation service for the website.
  • Images: Make sure the images you take and use reflect the diversity of your audience. Also be mindful that your images aren’t inadvertently sending negative messages or reinforcing stereotypes.
  • Pronouns: Be respectful of your subjects’ and visitors’ pronouns. You can specify your own pronouns on your user profile. See Adding and Editing Content: User Profile.

For resources, trainings, and answers to questions related to diversity and inclusion, visit the Outreach & Engagement Diversity, Equity and Inclusion website.

Tagging Guidelines

Tags are labels applied to content to help with sorting, filtering, and interpretation. They provide contextual information about the content that various platforms can take advantage of to display or use the content in ways that make sense. For example, a smart home app could use region tags to find information that is applicable to the home’s location. Or, if a website knows that a user is interested in a particular topic, it can feature content tagged with that topic for that user.

In general, when tagging a piece of content, think about how a visitor to the site would want to find the content. Here are some more detailed guidelines for the individual tags you can add to content.

Topic

When you tag content with a topic, a few things will happen.

  1. The content will show up on the topic’s pages.
  2. The content will show higher in search results when a visitor searches for the topic.
  3. The content will show when a visitor selects the topic in a page filter.
  4. A link to the topic page will show at the end of the content (unless it you override it with a custom "Call to Action")
  5. The content will appear in a “Related Content” section on pages of other pieces of content tagged with the topic.

Try to limit the topics you tag content with to one or two that are most relevant. For example, if you have a newsletter that has a whole article on tree care then that would be good topic to add. If you just had a brief mention of a tree care event coming up, then do not add it. The event on the website will be tagged for the topic but not the whole newsletter.

Topic Category

Topic committees are able to configure specific topic categories per topic. For example, for the "Berries, table grapes and kiwifruit" topic, there are categories for "Berries", "Table Grapes", and "Kiwifruit". These are used to further organize content in a topic.

Keyword

When you tag content with a keyword, a few things will happen.

  1. The content will show higher in search results when a visitor searches for the keyword.
  2. The content will show when a visitor selects the keyword in a page filter
  3. The content will show in “Program Tagged Content” page sections for programs it is tagged with.

Keywords are the only tag on the site that requires content authors to type in the tag instead of selecting it. Please follow these guidelines while doing this:

  • Reuse existing keywords if possible. As you type in the keyword box, you can select matching keywords that already exist. You will know you are reusing an existing keyword if a number appears next to it (this is the numeric ID of that keyword).
  • Keywords need to be separated by a comma.
  • Use all-lowercase letters unless the keyword contains a proper noun.
  • Try to use nouns whenever possible (instead of adjectives or verbs), for example, “sustainability” instead of “sustainable.”
  • Only use one “form” of each keyword. For example, don’t tag a piece of content with both “apple” and “apples.”
  • Don’t repeat information in other fields. For example, if you have tagged content with the region “Central Oregon,” you don’t need to add it as a keyword.
  • Avoid acronyms.
  • Use keywords that could apply to more than one piece of content.
  • Each keyword should contain a single idea. For example, instead of “trees and shrubs,” use the separate keywords “trees” and “shrubs.”

Region

The region tag can narrow content down to only what is relevant for someone in a particular geographical area. When you tag content with a region, a few things will happen:

  1. The content will show up higher when a visitor searches for the region.
  2. The content will show when a visitor selects the region in a page filter.

The region tag defaults to “Statewide.” You should change this tag (remove “Statewide” and add a different region) only if the content is only applicable to one or more specific regions and not statewide.

Season

The season tag specifies the season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) when the content is relevant. This is used for internal organization and for promotion of seasonally-relevant content. If content is equally-relevant during the entire year, do not select any season.

Marketing Theme

Extension marketing developed four themes to describe the work we do to stakeholders. If your content fits within one of these themes, specify it with the “marketing theme” tag.

Program Area

The Program Area tag is used on county focus areas for internal organization. Mark which of the seven Extension program areas that the focus area fits under.

Audience

The audience tag is used for internal organization, and the list of available audiences is currently under development. Eventually, it will be used to help personalize the website experience for individual visitors. If the content is not aimed at any of the listed audiences, do not select any.

Language

The language tag specifies what language the content is available in. When you tag content with a language, a few things will happen.

  1. The content will show higher in search results when a visitor searches for the language.
  2. The content will show when a visitor selects the language in a page filter.

In the upcoming phase of development for the website, there will be more robust multilingual functionality. In the meantime, we are using language tags for reporting and auditing information. Please only tag content with a language if the content is actually in that language.

Program and County

Tagging a piece of content with a program or county generally makes it appear on the corresponding program or county page. When you do this, please be mindful of whether your content is relevant to visitors to that page.

Case Study: Tags on an Article

The article “Start Planning Early: Things to consider when selling trees from your property” is tagged as follows:

Case Study: Tags on an Event

The event “4-H Annual Western Region Livestock Education Day” is tagged with a number of counties and local 4-H programs. This is because it is applicable to the entire Western region of the state. It shows up on the pages for each county and program it is tagged with. Note that, because it was added through the Linn County 4-H group, it does not need to be tagged with the Linn County 4-H program to show up on that page.

There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure the content you enter in the site meets legal requirements.

Copyrighted Content

It is very important that you only enter content in the site that we have the rights to or have permission to share or use. This includes text, documents, images (see above), and other media.

If you want to share content that is owned by another organization, you can link to it from our site (for example, as an online resource).

Research in Journals and other Publications

When considering adding content created by Extension faculty/staff that has been published in an external journal or other non-OSU publication, be sure to consider copyright and fair use. Authors may retain their copyright but be limited in their ability to share or distribute the work. Scholars Archive @ OSU has good information about this. Here are some methods to consider for sharing this kind of content.

  • You can link to the content if the journal where you submitted it provides it through open access. This is usually explained somewhere in the journal.
  • If it’s unclear, then you need to determine whether sharing the content falls under fair use. You could likely provide it to individuals on request for educational purposes, but providing it through a website would not typically be considered fair use.
  • You may consider repurposing the information in the content to create a new product that you are allowed to share and that is more appropriate for a web audience.

Accessibility

As an institution that receives federal funding, we are legally required to make content and services accessible. See the Accessibility section above for more information about how to do this. You can also read OSU’s IT Accessibility Policy.

Non-Discrimination and Accessibility Statement

The Equal Opportunity/Accessibility statement is linked to at the bottom of every page on the Extension website. Therefore, it is not required for content that shows on web pages (website-based content). However, files (for example, newsletters) may be downloaded and viewed outside of the website, so you may need to include one or both of these statements. You can read more information here.

Review of Terms

  • Accessibility: a diverse variety of visitors can access the content
  • Tags: labels applied to content to provide context and clues to meaning. Various platforms can use the contextual information tags provide to display or use the content in ways that make sense.

Key Takeaways

  • Make sure content you enter in the site has been reviewed and evaluated for quality and compliance with Extension’s digital strategy.
  • It is required that Extension’s web content be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Only enter content (including text, documents, and images) that you own or have permission to use.