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Dartmouth College Library
Dartmouth College Library Research Guides

Research Guides Best Practices

standards and best practices for research guide authors

Best Practices Guidelines

Things to think about

  1. Avoid duplication & redundancy. Is there already a guide or page that duplicates much of the information you wish to present?
  2. Link overload. Does your guide link to resources that are already ubiquitous, such as Summon or the Library Catalog? Try to highlight important discipline-based research tools that students may not be aware of.

Guide Layout

  1. Include your profile photo & information on the Guide's homepage. (140px wide - 200px tall)
  2. Provide a link to your Library's reference desk or the Ask Us service.
    If your Library does not have a reference desk, consider other contact options for times when you're not available.
  3. Use side navigation for your guide. Your guide should not have an overwhelming number of tabs.  Keep in mind the intended audience, who may be overwhelmed by too much information.
  4. Friendly URLs. Each tab should have a friendly url. Try to avoid sub-tabs, if possible. If you do create sub-tabs, these need friendly URLs as well. URLs for sub-tabs should be hierarchically so they reflect the structure of the guide.
  5. Classify your guide properly.

    Subject Guide 
    This is a top-level disciplinary guide that corresponds to an academic department or subject program. These guides need to have a subject assigned to them so it will appear in the proper subject category on the main research guide page at

    Course Guide
    Guides that are specifically targeted for a course being taught.
     -Course guides should be properly tagged so they will appear in the Canvas course management system.  
     -Do not assign a subject to your course guide - they should not appear in the research guide directory.
     -Provide a link to your course guides from within the disciplinary research guide.
     -Course guides should be unpublished or made private after the conclusion of the academic year (end of summer term).

    Topic Guide
    Guides on a narrow topic of interest to the Dartmouth community that are not already part of an existing research guide. This may include 'how to' guides, timely topics (Occupy Wall Street), or resources (e.g., Visual History Archive).
    - Do not assign a subject.
    - Use tags to facilitate searchability

    General Guides
    Avoid creating general guides. Be mindful that the Research Guide platform may not be appropriate for departmental information that would be better suited to a web page within the Library's web site.

Resource Linking

  1. Do not link to resources using Rich Text or plain Text boxes.
    Reusing databases and resources from the assets list allows the Link Checker to work, and database assets will be automatically updated through the Serials Solutions Knowledgebase. You can also monitor link use statistics.
  2. Link directly to databases  - not to Library Catalog records.
    Catalog records do not provide stable URLs for databases.
    SpringShare's Link Checker cannot identify library catalog links that are no longer pointing to the resource.
    Exceptions: Linking to a book or a journal (especially if it is available online from multiple sources)
  3. Use Resource Icons when appropriate.
    Currently there are resource icons for print books, screencasts, DVDs, and podcasts.

Content Presentation

  1. Break up long (more than five) lists of resources if possible.
    Ideally, Research Guides should be more than lists of resources -- they should be true guides to how to do research on the topic, not just enumerations of what resources are available. Minimize the amount of space where your user has to scroll to find key information.
  2. Break up long blocks of text with bullets or numbers.
  3. Use the upper left area if the page for introductory or directional/navigation information (Guide Index)
    This is the first place people's eyes go on the page and is a valuable piece of real estate. For example, note the Guide Index on this page that mirrors the tabs.
  4. Limit the proliferation of tabs.
    If you have more than one row of tabs, consider breaking it up into more guides or, as a last resort, use sub-tabs
  5. Sub-tabs should have a table of contents page as the main page.
    Unique data on the first page in a series of sub-tabs often ends up being hidden from the user. For example, see the Standard Content Boxes page in this guide.
  6. Make judicious use of images & include "ALT" descriptors 
    ALT descriptors are important for patrons using screen readers.

Guide Maintenance

  1. Use the Link Checker to identfy broken links.
  2. View the statistical reports of the main page for your major guides once a term.
    This can help you identify low-use resources on the main page. Use Google Analytics to track link usage for links on rich text formatted pages.