Web Standards & Policies

In general, the Tufts University School of Medicine​ website uses Associated Press (AP) style. School of Medicine administration, faculty and students have access to the Online AP Style Book via the Hirsh Health Sciences Library.

All text and graphics are copyright of Tufts/Tufts University School of Medicine unless otherwise indicated and should not be reproduced without written permission from an appropriate representative.

Follow these best practices to ensure that people will have an easier time finding information on the website and improve search engine optimization.

  • Good web content is well-organized, clear, and concise.

    • Provide Informative, Unique Page Titles — For each web page, provide a short title that describes the page content and distinguishes it from other pages. The page title is often the same as the main heading of the page. Put the unique and most relevant information first; for example, put the name of the page before the name of the organization. For pages that are part of a multi-step process, include the current step in the page title.

    • Use Headings to Convey Meaning and Structure — Use short headings to group related paragraphs and clearly describe the sections. Good headings provide an outline of the content, reduce clutter, and make it easier to scan and understand.

    • Make Link Text Meaningful — Write link text so that it describes the content of the link target. Avoid using ambiguous link text, such as 'click here' or 'read more'. Indicate relevant information about the link target, such as document type and size, for example, 'Proposal Documents (RTF, 20MB)'.

    • Write Meaningful Text Alternatives for Images — For every image, write alternative text that provides the information or function of the image. For purely decorative images, there is no need to write alternative text.

    • Create Transcripts and Captions for Multimedia — For audio-only content, such a podcast, provide a transcript. For audio and visual content, such as training videos, also provide captions. Include in the transcripts and captions the spoken information and sounds that are important for understanding the content, for example, 'door creaks'. For video transcripts, also include a description of the important visual content, for example 'Athan leaves the room'.

    • Provide Clear Instructions — Ensure that instructions, guidance, and error messages are clear, easy to understand, and avoid unnecessarily technical language. Describe input requirements, such as date formats.

    • Keep Content Clear and Concise — Use simple language and formatting, as appropriate for the context.
      • Write in short, clear sentences and paragraphs.
      • Avoid using unnecessarily complex words and phrases. Consider providing a glossary for terms readers may not know.
      • Expand acronyms on first use. For example, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
      • Consider providing a glossary for terms readers may not know.
      • Use list formatting as appropriate.
      • Consider using images, illustrations, video, audio, and symbols to help clarify meaning.
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.

    The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are organized around the following four principles, which lay the foundation for anyone to access and use web content. Anyone who wants to use the web should have content that is:

    1. Principle 1: Perceivable — Information and user interface components should be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    2. Principle 2: Operable — User interface components and navigation should be operable.
    3. Principle 3: Understandable — Information and the operation of user interface should be understandable.
    4. Principle 4: Robust — Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
      • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools, including assistive technologies.
  • Images

    All images should include an alternative (alt) attribute. A well-written alt attribute (sometimes called the alt tag) will descriptive text that clarifies the context of the image with regard to page content, if any.

    For example, an image may represent an action (or include a link) a viewer is being asked to take, such as a photo of a student with the words "Apply Now" as part of the photo. The alt tag for this image might say "A photo of a smiling female medical student with a link to the secondary medical application at http://www...".

    Alt (short for alternative) text is important for two reasons:

    1. First, it helps to ensure our web code is in compliance with federal guidelines for the American Disabilities Act. How? People with impaired vision sometimes rely on software that reads web pages. Many web pages are full of images. If those images have no text associated with them, the software may skip over them or recognize them as an image, but not understand their significance. Since images may contain important contextual information, a vision-impaired user may not get the same experience as a sighted user if alt tags are not used properly. There is much more to the accessibility of an image than just its alt text. There are many additional accessibility principles and techniques regarding images.
    2. Second, alt tags help search engines index pages. Like software for vision-impaired folks, search engines rely on text to understand and categorize page rankings. Clear, readable alt tags can help improve page rankings. It's yet another opportunity to include important wording that could influence how a page is indexed.

    Most people know that you need to provide alternative text for images. There is much more to the accessibility of an image than just its alt text. There are many additional accessibility principles and techniques regarding images.

    Accessible PDFs

    First, it is important to distinguish between Adobe, Acrobat, and PDF. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

    • Adobe is a company; they are the creators of Acrobat.
    • Acrobat is a tool for creating, editing and viewing PDF files.
    • PDF is a format or type of document. It stands for Portable Document Format. The PDF format was created by Adobe.

    The terms Adobe, Acrobat, and PDF are related in the same way as Microsoft, Word, and doc.

    When people talk about "accessible" PDF files, they usually are referring to "tagged" PDF files, even though there is more to an accessible PDF than tags. PDF Tags provide a hidden structured, textual representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. They exist for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF file. HTML tags and PDF tags often use similar tag names (e.g., both have tags named h1) and organization structures, but they really are quite different. If you are comfortable with HTML, you will probably have an easier time creating and editing tagged PDF files.

    1. Converting Documents to PDF – PDF files are not typically created in Acrobat. They are usually created in another program and converted to PDF. There are dozens or probably hundreds of programs that can create PDF files, but very few of them produce tagged PDF files. If you are using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, OpenOffice.org Writer, or Adobe tools such as InDesign, you can often create accessible, tagged PDF files without opening Acrobat. Of course, the accessibility of the PDF depends on the accessibility of the original document. The following instructions can also be used to convert PowerPoint files to PDF.
    2. Acrobat and Accessibility – Although you can create accessible PDF files in several programs, Adobe Acrobat Professional is required to evaluate, repair, and enhance the accessibility of existing PDF files.
      • Tags Pane – The Tags pane allows you to view, reorder, rename, modify, delete, and create tags. Many of these actions can be completed more easily using the TouchUp Reading Order tool, but there are some actions that can only be accomplished in the Tags pane.
      • TouchUp Reading Order – The TouchUp Reading Order (or TURO) tool allows a user to add and edit many common PDF tags, and to view the content order of elements on the page. Although it can speed up the tagging process, it does not take the place of the other tools mentioned previously. Certain tags, such as lists, are only available in the Tags pane.
      • Other Tools & Features
    3. Accessible Forms in Acrobat XI – Compared to HTML, PDF forms have some inherent accessibility limitations. There is no real way to associate the visible text label with the form field, but there is a way to provide a text description that will be read to a screen reader while navigating through the PDF. In addition to the accessibility principles outlined in the previous page of this article, the following four steps are required to ensure the accessibility of a PDF form:
    • Organize information according to how website visitors will look for it. Don't force navigation to match your internal structure. Use focus groups to understand how visitors search for information.
    • Keep section and page names simple and short — to one or two words, if possible. Don't get stuck trying to name categories too literally. For example, "Our Friends, Partners, Affiliates, Neighbors and Associates" can probably be summed up in one word.
    • Provide appropriate web page structure. Headings, lists, and other structural elements provide meaning and structure to web pages. They can also facilitate keyboard navigation within the page.
    • Flat navigation structures (one level of navigation) are fine for simple web sections. If you have more than 8 categories, you may require tiered navigation (more than one level of navigation), drop down menus or dynamic menus (driven by an internal database).
    • Every page should have a way for a visitor to get back to the previous page, section page, and home page. Use breadcrumb trails or dynamic menu-ing. Tufts University School of Medicine templates do this automatically.
    • Every link should make sense if the link text is read by itself. Screen reader users may choose to read only the links on a web page. Certain phrases like "click here" and "more" must be avoided. For example, rather than "click here to find our glossary", use "view our glossary".
  • Accessibility techniques increase the findability of web pages by exposing content to search engines, both internally (within a website) and externally (across the World Wide Web). There is much evidence that suggests that accessibility not only supports high search engine rankings, but that Google may actually favor pages that have strong implementations of accessibility. This is, of course, difficult to prove. Good accessibility and good search engine optimization is a great combination for content authors and end users. The list of accessibility and SEO practices that are closely in alignment include:

    You may check your work using a validator such as the W3C Markup Validation Service. Style sheets can be validated using the W3C CSS Validation Service.