Basic Principles

1. Some Description Is Better than No Description

Given that the current landscape of arts and humanities electronic publications is characterized by lack and inconsistency of description for visual resources, some description is preferable to no description at all. Provided that description meets the editorial standards of the publication itself, including some description is more important than including the ideal description, as it affords access to visual resources for readers who would otherwise have none.

2. Be Consistent

While there are many methods of description, each with unique value, it is best to use a consistent method of description throughout a publication to the extent possible. This consistency reflects the uniformity of style, format, and voice in the publication itself, and furthermore establishes reader expectations regarding the availability, scope, and order of descriptions within the publication.

3. Every Description Has a Point of View

Description is not free of interpretation, but rather is the result of choices and assumptions that amount to a point of view. Within a publication, two points of view are of particular interest: description that is consistent with the publication itself (in terms of style and argument) and description that is potentially reusable in other contexts. Including either is sufficient. Including both can be beneficial, as it may provide opportunity for the reader to formulate an independent point of view.

4. Reflect Intention

Visual resources within a publication serve an intentional purpose, and effective description should be written to reflect or achieve the same purpose. When the visual content is intended to provide evidence, offer context, provoke a response, or represent something, the description should to the extent possible do the same.

5. Balance Completeness and Concision

All description is partial, but should not omit key information. Effective description should find a path between completeness and concision, informed by the purpose and content of the visual resource. Within alt text and long description, a poetic economy of language may be used.

6. Order for Efficiency

There are many methods of ordering description, including general to specific, left to right, figure to ground. Order should reflect purpose and content. Within alt text and long description, aim for efficiency, with more important information first, and cues to indicate what follows. Avoid constructions that delay key information, such as: “Blue text on a black background. It is a serif font. It reads: ‘Do not enter!’”

Guidelines Contents

  1. Glossary
  2. Basic Principles
  3. Examples
  4. Exceptions and Special Cases