Content principles

When library employees communicate with external audiences, it's important we're consistent, clear, inclusive, and on brand.

While intended for library employees, anyone is welcome to use this guide.

Our content principles describe our objectives, voice, tone, and content guidelines. See also our content style guide and anti-racist language guide.  

Our objectives

Write for all readers. 

Some people will read every word you write. Others will just skim. Consider people whose first language isn’t English, as well as people using assistive technology to access your content.

Be mindful of our audience, including those not in the room.

Think carefully about your language and word choices. Be considerate of diverse audiences and their lived experiences.

Double check the language you use. Do your research, and consider inviting colleagues to review your drafts or offer feedback on how your writing comes across.

Our voice

Our voice is conversational, friendly, and easy to understand. Use direct, real people language, reflecting the library's personality, which is:

  • Knowledgeable, but not arrogant
  • Fun, but not silly
  • Inspirational, but not cheesy
  • Expert, but not condescending 
  • Approachable, but not casual
  • Clear, but not simplistic

Our tone

While our voice stays consistent, our tone can adjust depending on context and audience. In some cases, we'll want an informal tone, and in others we might need to be more academic.

For example, your tone should be more formal when communicating with someone about their job application than when replying to someone on social media. Social media posts can include exclamation points and emojis, but they’re not recommended for other digital and print content.

Type of writing Intended audience Tone Example
Web page Building visitors Helpful, informative, timely Talk to our staff at the Ask Us desks about quiet study spaces. Try the 4th floor in the Main Library or reserve a quiet study room.
Email notification PhD students Direct, brief, personalized, supportive, understanding You will still be able to access your dissertation writing room, and our staff at the Ask Us in the lobby is ready to help if you need assistance or free earplugs. If you have any questions, please let me know.
News story/ press release Public, external stakeholders, staff, media, students Direct, impartial This university initiative will transform the Main Library, the Albert B. Weaver Science-Engineering Library, Bear Down Gym, and a new four-story building into an interconnected facility that will support collaborative, hands-on learning for generations of students.

Our guidelines

Use conversational language. 

When it makes sense, use us or we to refer to the library or library staff and you or your to refer to your audience. It's fine to use contractions.

🔴 Instead of: 

If you run into problems with your laptop, computer, camera, or adaptor, the University of Arizona Libraries is the place to go to find the answers Monday through Sunday. 


We've got the technology you need to get your work done.

Be concise.

Write in plain language. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers. 

🔴 Instead of:

This homepage of the library website provides access to the tools you’ll need to find print, electronic, and multimedia resources in our library collections and on the web.


Find print, electronic, and multimedia resources.

Focus your message.

Think about your audience. What do they want to know or do? What do you want them to know or do? 

Create a hierarchy of information and prioritize what matters most. Lead with the main point or the most important content in sentences, paragraphs, sections, and pages. Group related ideas together. 

🔴 Instead of:

The University Library Special Collections maintains collections of rare books and unique archival materials that make possible in depth research on selected topics. The scope and diversity of Special Collections make it an important resource for the international academic community. Established in 1958 to house materials on the region, Special Collections now includes rare books, manuscript collections, photographs, and other materials in a wide variety of subject areas.


We offer access to rare and unique materials for scholars, researchers, and the public.

Use active voice. 

In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. Avoid passive voice, where the subject of the sentence has the action done to it. Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.

🔴 Instead of:

Accounts can be renewed.

✅ Try:

You can renew your account.

Make your content scannable. 

Many readers scan, or skim, content when they are looking for specific information. Use visual formatting to break up long sections of text. Use bullet points to organize lists.

Add descriptive headers and subheaders to organize your content. Headers and subheaders help explain what is in each section of your content so that everyone find what you want them to know. 

🔴 Instead of:

Your research plan must include data type, related tools, software or code, data preservation, and access, distribution, or reuse conditions. 

✅ Try:

 Your research plan must include:

  • Data type
  • Related tools
  • Software or code
  • Data preservation
  • Access, distribution, or reuse conditions

Simplify your language.

Simplify complicated language, words, or phrases. Avoid adverbs like very, actually, or really.

Instead of: Try:
At this point in time Now
Due to the fact that  Because
In spite of the fact that Though
Facilitate Help
In order to To
In the event of If
Utilize or leverage Use
Please note, it is interesting to note that, or I will note that Emphasize important information visually with headers, subheaders, tables, bulleted lists, or bold text

Avoid idioms.

Try to avoid idioms. Some idioms do not translate across cultures, and some expressions have a racist history. Expressions that do not translate across cultures can be intimidating, misinterpreted, or confusing for some.

🔴 Instead of:

Go big or go home.


Put all of your effort into it.

Looking for our style guide?

Take a look at our content style guide and the University of Arizona style guide where you’ll find direction on words, names, content structure, and punctuation. If you are writing for the Health Sciences Library, also see the Health Sciences style guide.

With thanks to the University of Dundee for inspiration.