Content Structure and Formatting

On the web, users scan when reading web pages. Good content structure and formatting increases the ability to scan web content.

Headings

Divide your content into sections and give each section a heading. This helps readers understand where they are in the document.

Good headings:

  • Use one primary keyword
  • Limit to 70-80 characters

Heading Styles

All heading styles for acf.hhs.gov are pre-defined. Reference the Visual Style Guide for styles.

Use pre-defined heading styles (H1, H2, H3 headings in Drupal or the Styles section in Microsoft Word) when setting headings. This ensures that your content will be properly structured when you’re done.

Do not change the formatting to indicate a heading — do not use bold, italics, or all caps in place of style headings.

Use title case for headings: Use title case (first letter of all words are capitalized) for headings. Do not use all capital letters in a heading. (See Capitalization for more information)

Correct: Training and Technical Assistance

Incorrect: TRAINING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE, training and technical assistance

No ampersands in headings: Use ampersands (&) instead of “and” ONLY when it is part of a company’s name or in a composition title. (See abbreviations for more information).

Correct: Administration for Children and Families, Procter & Gamble

Incorrect: Administration for Children & Families, Procter and Gamble

Spell out numbers: Spell out numbers in headings. Do not use digits (1, 2, 3….).

Correct: Five Eligibility Rules

Incorrect: 5 Eligibility Rules

No end punctuation: Other than question marks, do not use other end punctuation (such as periods) in headings.

Correct: Five Eligibility Rules

Incorrect: Five Eligibility Rules. Five Eligibility Rules:

Links

Hyperlinks Visit disclaimer page provide users with additional information about a topic and can be used throughout your content. Links can be headlines, titles, statements, questions, or phrases. Make sure linked text is clear, concise, and lets your reader know where you are sending them.

When Writing Hyperlink Text

Think about where the link will lead. Use the destination page to help define meaningful link text.

Use simple descriptive text for a hyperlink instead of the URL.

Team Announcements

is easier to read and understand than

http://www.someurl.com/anotherthing%20/Lists#%20/Announcements.aspx

EXCEPTION: If referring to a particular website that is short and recognizable, you may use the website name as the link, but drop anything before the name of the site (http://www...) as in:

Healthcare.gov, HHS.gov, plainlanguage.gov

Don’t talk about the “mechanics” in your link. Don’t use “Click Here” or “Go to this page.” Instead, use language that tells the user what they are linking to and try to call your reader to action.

Use action phrases with verbs. (i.e.: “Contact us,” “Sign In,” “Register now.”)

Lists

Lists make it easy to quickly comprehend complex information, help readers identify steps, save words and space on each page, and can make your logic and structure clearer.

Numbered lists or Ordered Lists should be used when the items have an implied sequence (first this, then this…).

Bulleted lists or Unordered Lists should be used when items don't require a particular order.

When writing lists:

  • Keep lists short; a full page of list items can be an indication that the content should be broken into additional sections or lists.
  • Be careful with punctuation.
    • Lists of fragments shouldn't have punctuation.
    • Use periods at the end of items in lists when the item is a complete sentence (like in this case).
    • Bullets replace other sentence punctuation of lists. Don't connect them into a sentence with commas or semicolons.
      • Not this;
      • Then that; and
      • The last thing.
  • Capitalize the first letter of each list item (whether or not the list item is a complete sentence). Do not capitalize all letters (title case).
  • Use parallel sentence structure when writing list items.
  Incorrect What's Wrong? Correct
Unordered List

Mandatory Benefits:

  • Inpatient.
  • Outpatient.
  • Program counseling.

List elements are fragments - no punctuation should be used

Mandatory Benefits:

  • Inpatient
  • Outpatient
  • Program counseling
Ordered List

The three steps are:

  1. review instructions
  2. complete form
  3. submit form

The first word of each statement is not capitalized

 

The three steps are:

  1. Review instructions
  2. Complete form
  3. Submit form

Tables

Tables help to simply convey complex information to users.

To create useful, effective tables:

  • Use tables when comparing numbers.
  • Use tables when presenting a series of “if, then” sentences.
  • Keep tables simple. Try to limit data tables to four columns, six rows, and 500 words.
  • Use short descriptive headings.
Population Group Income Limit Asset Limit
Individuals

$2,000

$950
Families $5,000 $1,500

When building tables for the website:

  • Create the tables within Drupal – do not copy and paste from Word or another program.
  • Always assign a header row or column for 508 compliance.