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Research Guides Standards and Best Practices

This guide will help you create a usable, readable and well designed guide for the University of New Hampshire. It lists standards, best practices, and guidelines to follow when creating and updating guides or webpages.

Break up Lengthy Explanations

Guides are more than lists. They are instructional tools, telling users not just where but how to do research, which often requires longer narrative or explanatory text. There is an inevitable tension between conflicting purposes: bulleted lists for quick findability, vs. sentences and paragraphs for explanation. Try to alternate modes: break up explanations with bullets, sub-headings, and other visual cues to group smaller "chunks" of information.

Sort Lists of Resources

As students tend to use the first resources listed, it is generally preferable to list them in order of importance rather than alphabetically.

Think about other ways to arrange the sources. For example: in order by importance or value, as you see it; from broad to narrow in subject scope; by date coverage; etc.

It is also desirable to keep lists of resources short – maybe to the top five key resources featured prominently. One may also consider breaking long lists of resources into different boxes based on similar content type.

Less is More!

Usability tests show that students are confused by excessive content. So, tabs, text, lists, number of pages and boxes should be kept to a minimum. 

There's no magic number, but if you have more than 7 or 8 resources in a single content box you should think about how it can divided into more than one box. 

Strive for usability, not comprehensiveness.

Avoid Feedback Tools

For the most part student comments, ratings, recommendations should be avoided. Students are seeking advice from experts not from other students.

Describe Unclear Resources

Names of resources whose subject area is not clear, e.g. JSTOR, Francis, PAIS, MLA, CIAO should always have brief descriptions added to them to indicate the type of content.

Database Descriptions

Avoid describing the database asset using the default scope note from the vendor. Often this type of text is wordy and full of jargon. Aim for clear language with just a few sentences so the reader can scan the description quickly.

Also consider how the database description will read when reused on other guides. Subject specific acronyms and abbreviations may confuse readers who are unfamiliar with the subject.

Minimize Print Resource Lists

Screenshot of the Add-Reorder menu where the option for 'Book from the Catalog' can be found

Use the Book from the Catalog feature to highlight print resources. 

Yet, keep mentions of print resources to a minimum. The best resource may be print. However, long lists of resources inaccessible via the web will frustrate or confuse most users.