Columbia Web Style Guidelines

  1. Have "about" files with the name of the owner of the information and contact if different 

    The only "requirement" that CUIT asks of departments and student groups to whom links are made in ColumbiaWeb is that one person takes responsibility for the data. This means ensuring the data adhere to CUIT Policy, University Policy, and federal law such as copyright and other restrictions on data transmissions. This policy has some benefits, such as attribution for work accomplished and contact information both internally and externally. If the contact for the group is different from the data "owner," then this distinction should be made clear, perhaps in an about file. 
  2. Use the title field and Meta tags

    The title field (e.g., <title>My Title</title>) is important for navigation (used in hot lists), for orientation (always at the top of browsers; crucial for long documents), and particularly for searching, as the title is used for the list of hits. Otherwise just the file name will appear. Meta tags allow you to add keywords and a short description of your page for search engines. 
  3. Use lowercase, short directory and file names, and numbers where appropriate 

    Using lowercase, short directory and file names makes typing them in a Unix environment a lot easier!
  4. Date all data 

    Old data can be quite problematic from many perspectives. You can learn how to insert code that will automatically write the "last updated" date for you in our brief description of ssi
  5. Check links 

    It's very easy to make typos when constructing links. Check all links as the last step in publishing. Periodically check links to outside data. 
  6. Announce to groups or people when moving or deleting pages 

    Collaboration is best when both sides have some input. For any kind of academic project, interdepartment initiative, University-wide effort like course data, events, etc., it is important to maintain contact with data providers. The result will be interrupted service if data are moved or changed. If you decide to delete or move a file, please contact other Web maintainers here at Columbia that link to it. You can use the Columbia search engine to find out who is linking to your file by using the search syntax "link:" for example:

    This will return a list of pages that include a link to
  7. Get approval when using data owned by others 

    Most data falls under copyright. Almost all data fall under an individual or institution's "intellectual property." It is more than just polite to ask before using others' work, in many cases it is illegal not to get permission. Ignoring such issues can have serious repercussions, not to mention violating the golden rule. 
  8. Cite others' work 

    Even if data are in the public-domain, owned by your institution, or you receive permission to use them, please cite others' material when using it. To not cite it is equivalent to plagiarism. 
  9. Scrutinize your work 

    The following excerpt from the original ColumbiaNet style guidelines (1993) applies more than ever:

    INTEGRITY--ColumbiaNet is read worldwide and operates as a significant public relations vehicle for the University. Editorial integrity that may be deemed appropriate for a casual internal audience may not be as readily acceptable by those judging Columbia by ColumbiaNet. Therefore, there should be a stricter scrutiny of text for spelling and grammatical errors. ColumbiaNet text should always be the latest and best version of the text. As it can be changed at any time, text should be reviewed one last time as it is going on-line.

  10. Don't add unimplemented links 

    While it is tempting to complete one's index to a service and then fill out the links, it is not much more troublesome to leave the links inactive until the files are ready. Having the user receive a "file not found" message should be taboo; it wastes their time and falsely builds expectation. A link to a page with no information other than an "under construction" announcement isn't especially useful either. 
  11. Test work in other browsers 

    This caveat should not be disregarded. If your browser forgives a typo in the code (as some do liberally) and someone else's browser does not, the result for that user could be disastrous.
  12. Warn of large images 

    Since large images can take a long time to access, forewarning users with a note like "detailed image" or "large image," or indicating file size (1.2M) is a kindness. 
  13. Use trailing slashes in URLs ending with a directory 

    Some browsers will return an error message or certain relative links may be inaccessible when trailing slashes are left out of URLs pointing to a directory, e.g. is preferable. Don't use trailing slashes after a file name. 
  14. Use alternate text in image references when they contain important text data or for thumbnails pointing to services
  15. Use the latest version of the most popular browser for your platform 

    The "Web Wars" should only intensify. To keep up with the general user population, use the latest browser with the most diverse set of formatting tools. This will feed your own creativity and will offer the highest level of service to the high-end user.