Occasionally, you'll need to post a link to a document or file. This should be done sparingly in most circumstances.
|Editable Office documents||convert to OpenDocument files|
|Non-editable Office documents||convert to PDF files|
|Newsletters, brochures, fact sheets, posters, etc.||convert to HTML webpages|
|Meeting minutes, agendas, reference materials, etc.||post to Google Drive|
When posting files for people to download, our main concern should be for the user experience:
- Will users need special software to download the file?
- Will users have the correct version of that software?
- How much of the user's data plan gets eaten up by downloading the file?
Indicate that the link is to a file, not a webpage
This lets users know they will be downloading a document and not visiting a website. They may incur data charges or require special software to view the file.
The mobile-first templates will automatically prepend a document icon to your link to denote the type of document you want them to download. Example (these aren't real links):
- Word document the user needs to edit
- PDF document the user needs to print
- Excel document the user needs to edit
If the file is larger than 50KB, you should append the file size of the document so users know they are about to download a large the file that may affect their data charges. Example (this isn't a real link): Application (900 KB)
Dated files become out-dated files: Don't date your files
Don't name your files with dates like "Scholarship_Application_2014.pdf." Simply title the file "Scholarship-Application.pdf." If and when you have a new version to post, give it the same title and overwrite the old version. This prevents old copies from being found and prevent links from becoming broken.
The website is not a file share server
The University's website is a public-facing site, meant to provide information to a broad audience. The web server is a poor place to act as a file share. Only upload files that are directly related to the context of the content on the page.
If you wish to share a set of documents, you can link to your Binghamton Google drive account. There, you can organize your content into folders and control access and permissions.
Types of Files
Two of the most common files we post are Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. There are two ways to handle posting these documents; which you use depends on whether users need to edit the document:
- If users WILL need to edit:
Export the document in the OpenDocument format. This will allow users to open the document in whatever word processing or spreadsheet application they have, instead of restricting them to the version of Office that was used to create the documents.
- If users WON'T need to edit:
Either convert the document to a webpage or export the document as a PDF. How do you know which to do? Glad you asked...
PDFs should be accessible. PDFs should be generated from a word-processing application (Word, InDesign, etc.). Text should be human readable. You should NEVER post a PDF that is simply a scanned photo of a document.
When should I post a PDF?
The main advantage of using a PDF is that the appearance remains consistent for all users (although even this is only true if the PDFs are properly set up). You should post a PDF if it meets the following criteria:
Formatting is critical and must be retained
If you are providing forms that must be displayed in a specific way due to governmental or other regulations. Examples: scholarship application, letter from the governor
Printing is required
Documents that need to be printed out in an exact manner, such as forms and applications. Examples: program application, human resource form
Large documents for download/offline use
If you have long documents that you want users to save to their device. Note: These should also be available as webpages on our site; the downloadable PDF should be an addition to the webpage, not a substitute for it. Example: student handbooks, program catalogs.
When shouldn't I post a PDF?
Any other time. If the information is important enough to post online, it should be a webpage.
- are smaller in file size
- are accessible by screen readers
- offer a centralized navigation
- are branded as Binghamton University
- provide user analytics
- are more search engine friendly
You shouldn't post PDFs of the following:
- Fact sheets
These were meant to be professionally printed (not displayed on the web or printed by the user) and are time-sensitive (most are outdated within a year). If there is valuable information in these pieces, you should create a webpage to present the data.
It's true that a lot of time has been spent designing the fact sheet, newsletter, poster, etc., and that converting it into a webpage will take a little more time and effort. Sure, it's easy to just "throw a PDF online." However, you shouldn't do that and here's why:
If the content is valuable, it should be a webpage. If it isn't valuable, it shouldn't be posted. If the content isn't worth your time to convert it to a webpage, then it isn't worth anyone's time to read it.
Putting a PDF online isn't as simple as uploading it to the web server and linking to it. PDFs must meet accessibility standards, and it may take a good deal of work to make your PDF accessible.
Designing newsletters and fact sheets that are printed and distributed to a hundred people is a lot of effort for little reward. Instead, focus your efforts building useful webpages filled with valuable content. You'll end up with a better result, with much less effort, and a broader reach.
How to create a PDF
Smaller is better
Aim for 30-40 KB. Most browsers need to download the full PDF before they can render it, so anything larger and your readers may hit the back button and leave rather than wait for it to load. Optimize your images and don't embed fonts. There's an online PDF compressor that may assist you.
Accessibility is key
Any content on the binghamton.edu site must be accessible to all users. Refer to WebAIM's site on PDFs for more information.
Maintenance is required
One of the biggest issues the University website has with PDFs is that they are dated. We have newsletters from 10 years ago littered with outdated content, bad links and broken images. Follow the previously mentioned naming conventions and archive any content more than a year old.