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Placer County Website Style Guide

This style guide was created to help us keep a consistent written and visual presentation to the public. It describes some common formatting for things like Frequently Asked Questions, Contact Us pages, the correct usage of expanding headlines and links, etc. We also list some of the common style rules to be applied across the website and have a link to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), which is the authoritative written style guide being used by the County.

New Features and Elements

Several new features and elements have been added to our website that can help visitors quickly find what they're looking for. They have all been designed for accessibility and usability. They will gracefully degrade if a user has an older browser, a screen reader, or JavaScript disabled--all common problems for websites. And with approximately 30% of our visitors coming to our site using their smartphones and tablets, these new elements have been designed to work well with those devices.

Here are some of the new features and elements available:

If you have an idea for a new feature, or need help using one that already exists, please contact the Customer Service Center and a ticket will be opened so someone on the Web Team can help.

Better Written Communication

An important aspect of branding and usability is to communicate to the public with a consistent style. This is very evident with well-known brands such as Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, etc. Keeping our communication consistent across several different departments and divisions within the County can be challenge. That's why this style guide is being created for our public website. When we communicate consistently across web pages, visitors will feel more comfortable finding the information they're looking for.

The County has also purchased a county-wide subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style Online, which is referenced by countless organizations as a source for defining the proper way to write and style content. If you have a question about anything related to writing style, you will probably find it in the Chicago Manual of Style.

You can browse the full manual here:

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

Common Rules to Follow

We've compiled some of the most common formatting rules below, taken from the CMOS and other web usability publications.

  • Phone numbers should be formatted with hyphens, such as 530-555-1212.
  • Start sentences and bullets with relevant and useful keywords. People scan and the first 3-4 words may be all they see.
  • Use bold and italics sparingly. If everything's bold, then nothing is bold.
  • Headlines use headline-style capitalization.
  • Headlines should not end with a hyphen or period.
  • Links should only open in new browser windows/tabs if the link goes to another website or a file download, such as a PDF file.
  • Lists should begin with keywords and all items in the list should consistently end with or without periods.


Tables pose a problem for mobile users who might have very limited screen space, especially on smartphones. Tables fix the width of the page and may get chopped off if the screen is not wide enough to display the entire table. If you carefully consider the best way to present information based on how people will use it, many times a table is not necessary.

Let's consider the following table with contact information.


The headings aren't really necessary, since it's clear the left column is the name and the right column is the phone number. When people are looking for a phone number, they'll naturally find it by scanning the names, and then finding the phone number to the right. Bullet lists are perfect for fast scanning of single items (such as names), and there's no real benefit to having the phone number in it's own column. The same information as a list would look like this:

Contact Phone Numbers

  • Kids First - 530-887-3536 or 916-774-6802
  • Lincoln Lighthouse - 916-645-3300
  • North Tahoe Family Resource Center - 530-546-0952

Some may argue that the table looks pretty, but the goal is to make it easy and fast for users to find the information they're looking for. The list works on all devices (and 1 out of every 4 visits is a mobile device) and the headline makes it clear what the information is. Another option is to make the names in the list bold, so they stand out from the phone numbers.