USAJOBS Content Style Guide
This style guide is a work in progress. It pulls from and extends previous work completed by Andy Lewandoski and Tracy Orrison (USAJOBS Content Analysis_FINAL.pdf). There are several resources available that already provide guidance around content. Where appropriate this document will point to the following:
- 18F Content Guide
- AP Style Guide - Follow the AP Style guide, with modifications for USAJOBS as needed.
- U.S. Web Design Standards
Help users apply for jobs and find the information they need to successfully apply for jobs.
All content on usajobs.gov should be:
- Decisive/Authoritative – build trust that what the user reads is accurate and timely
USAJOBS needs to make a personal connection with the user. Finding, applying and getting a job can be stressful—USAJOBS needs to guide the user through the process and make it easier to find the information they need and build trust that the information they find is accurate and timely.
To establish a friendlier, more personal tone and content that’s easy to understand:
- Use contractions (i.e. You’re, it’s )
- Use active voice
- Use pronouns (i.e. address the audience as “you”, “your”) – this helps personalize the experience
- Example: Sign into your USAJOBS account.
- Use plain language as defined at plainlanguage.gov
- Don’t use jargon
- Use web writing standards
Web Writing Standards
People skim the web—they don’t read. They want to find information quickly and without much effort. It’s important for web writing to be friendly, conversational and in small chunks so it’s easy scan and move on.
Put the most important information first
Use the inverted pyramid structure.
- Most important information at the top of the page – include a strong topic sentence that will tell the user what the content is about.
- Further details are in the body/middle of the page
- Less important, but still good to know information is at the bottom of the page, such as related links or other contextual information.
Most people will read the top of the page, some will read the middle if they’re interested and few will read the bottom.
Organize content into digestible chunks
The web is not a book—users will not read a page full of text.
- Use headings and subheadings to break up content
- Use short paragraphs and sentences
- Use bulleted or numbered lists
- Use bullets for unordered lists.
- Use numbers for ordered lists, or to indicate ‘steps’ that must be completed in a certain order– numbered lists are used often in help content.
Use the active voice
Active voice is concise, direct and makes it clear who is doing the action or who is supposed to be doing the action. Using the active voice makes the content easy to understand.
An active voice sentence follows this order: Subject + Verb + Object
Example of passive voice:
The following information must be included in the application for it to be considered complete.
Example of active voice:
You must include the following information in your application
Avoid the passive voice—it’s ambiguous and makes for longer, more complex sentences. You can see in the example above; the passive voice sentence uses 15 words, the active voice sentence uses 9 words.
Use Plain Language
Incorporate all guidelines and standards recommended by plainlanguage.gov
Plain language is easy to understand and accessible—the theme is SIMPLE.
- Use simple words instead of complex ones. Whenever you write something, re-read it and think, is there a simpler way to explain this?
- Refer to the Plainlanguage.gov list of simple words and phrases – this list shows words to avoid and better words to use instead.
Capitalize headings/titles, when speaking about a specific section of the site or a button label in help content.
Example in help content:
- Go to Applications or Go to Documents
But, when referring to a user’s applications or documents, use lowercase:
- Select the application you want to update.
- Check the status of your application.
- Do not capitalize “account”, unless it’s the first word in a sentence.
- Use sentence case – the first word is capitalized, but subsequent words are not, unless it’s a proper noun.
- Make them actionable—start with a verb.
- Use punctuation if the link is a sentence or question, but don’t include the punctuation as part of the link
- Example: Learn more about unique hiring paths.
Form Field Labels
- Use sentence case – the first word is capitalized, but subsequent words are not
- First name
- Last name
- Middle name
Spelling and Common Words
Below are some of the most commonly misspelled or misused words used on USAJOBS. For any words not listed here, follow guidelines in the 18F Content guide.
- Email, email. Don’t use e-mail, E-mail, EMAIL
- Canceled, canceling. Not cancelled, cancelling
- Use Sign in or Sign into NOT log in or log into
- D.C., not DC
- federal, not Federal, unless it’s part of a proper noun, such as an agency name. Refer to Mary Dash’s Writing Tips on plainlanguage.gov
- federal employees
- federal job
- U.S., not US or USA
- Don’t use the phrase “My Account” for USAJOBS to refer to a person’s account. See “Use of Account vs. Profile” below.
Use of Account vs. Profile
This is the managing aspect of all your USAJOBS applications, resumes, saved jobs, saved searches.
- Use “Your account” when talking in broad terms about managing these pieces
- “When you save a job it automatically gets added to your account…”
- “You can manage your applications in your account”
This is your personal information – your contact info, eligibility, and preferences. This information is required in order to apply.
- Use profile when talking about specific user information and the need to apply
- You must complete your profile to apply for jobs on USAJOBS.gov.
- We use your profile information to provide better search results.
- When you apply, we pass along your profile information to the hiring agency.
- We use your profile information to …
But, you don’t manage your applications, saved jobs, etc. in your profile.
- Always use a comma with the welcome message in profile dashboard
Example: Welcome, Debbie
Writing help text
- Bold button or link names when to buttons or links in help text:
“Click Print for a printer friendly version”
- Use numbers to indicate ‘steps’ that must be completed in a certain order
In general, most links need to open in the same window. However, whenever you link to a completely different website, the link should open in a new window. Follow these specific guidelines for links:
Open links in the same window.
Open links in the same window, unless the link goes to a website outside of USAJOBS or Open Opportunities. In this case, open the link in a new window.
For a help icon (?) in the search filters, in the profile section, in a job announcement or during the application process, open the link in a new window.
Main “Help” link
For the main “Help” link in the top or bottom navigation, open the link in the same window.