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Contributing to the Handbook

So you want to contribute to the Handbook? Great! We're glad you're here. This project is fully crowd-sourced, and thus its success hinges on whether people like you correct typos, update stale content, or make pages more readable.


How to update the handbook

Everyone, inside and outside TTS, can submit contributions to as a pull request or open an issue with a suggestion. If you're part of TTS, you can also chat about ideas in #tts-handbook.

There is no dedicated staff for the handbook; maintenance is done by TTS staff who are interested in helping.

For long or important chunks of writing, consider asking the 18F Writing Lab to review and edit before you propose significant changes to the handbook.


Before you make your contribution, there are a few things to remember:

There is also some information that should not be included in the Handbook:

  • TTS staff should not include information that shouldn't be public. We already get training on this, but here are a few reminders about things we shouldn't include here:

    • Sensitive information

    • Comments that can be easily interpreted as endorsements (or other potential ethical issues)

    • Information that can easily go out of date and is already published somewhere else in a useful format. This includes:

      • People's phone numbers, even if public information (such as their GSA work number). Link to the public GSA staff directory or the access-controlled 18F contact spreadsheet instead of including phone numbers in the handbook
      • Information that is already well-covered on GSA InSite - link there instead of reproducing it
      • Specific TTS org chart info (such as lists of names of supervisors and facilitators). Link to the TTS org chart, the internal 18F org chart, or the internal Office of Solutions org chart instead

Creating a new page?

If you plan on creating a new Handbook page, first check out the [page templates]( If the type of content you're creating -- for example, if you're documenting a new tool -- has a template, then please use it to write your new page.

Now, assuming you've identified what you want to contribute -- if you haven't, check out the Handbook's open issues -- let's talk about the mechanism by which you'll contribute: NetlifyCMS or Git.

Helpers and shortcuts

The backend of the Handbook is built using a tool called Eleventy, which uses a language called "Liquid" to enable shortcuts and helpers, making it easier and faster to add new content. Here are some of the helpers and shortcuts available in the Handbook. Please use them when possible as they will make it easier to maintain the Handbook over time!

  • Linking to another page
    Linking to other pages within the Handbook can be a little tricky if you do it by hand because you need to know the page's absolute URL after it is built and published. To simplify this, you can use the {% page %} short code:

    [this is my link]({% page "/another/page/to/link" %})
    <a href="{% page "/another/page/to/link" %}">this is my link</a>
  • Displaying images
    To include an image that is unique to TTS in your content, first be sure that the image is located in the _img directory. (Images not hosted within the Handbook can be included using the normal methods for images.) Then, use the {% image %} short code, like this:

    {% image "_img/myImage.png" "alt text describing the image" %}

    The first item after the code is the path to your new image. Your image can be organized into subdirectories however you like, just be sure to include the complete path here. The second item is alt text used to describe the image. If your image needs a custom CSS class, you can instead use the {% image_with_class %} short code:

    {% image_with_class "path" "css class" "alt text" %}
  • Linking to a Slack channel
    The format of links to Slack channels have changed over time, so instead of expecting everyone to be aware of the current way, we have created a short code that does it for you! The {% slack_channel %} short code can help:

    • {% slack_channel "research" %} will create a link to the #research channel. The link will be styled like so: #research. The channel name is the first item after the code and will work whether you include a hash symbol or not.

    • {% slack_channel "g-diversity" "Diversity Guild" %} will create a link to #g-diversity, but it'll be presented with the text Diversity Guild, like so: Diversity Guild

  • Linking to a download
    If you need to link to a publicly-downloadable file, you can add the file to the downloads directory in the Handbook repository. Then in your content, you can use the {% download %} short code to get the full URL to your file, like so:

    [download my file]({% download "my_file.pdf" %})
    <a href="{% download "my_file.pdf" %}">download my file</a>
  • Using a USWDS icon
    The Handbook is built on USWDS 3. As a result, it includes USWDS's icons. To make it easier to access the icons, you can use the {% uswds_icon %} short code:

    {% uswds_icon "build" %} will produce

    USWDS provides a handy searchable list of icons to help you find the perfect piece of iconography for your needs.

Be careful with icons

Do not use icons in place of textual content. These icons do not come with alt text and are not accessible. Use them as decorative elements or as additional emphasis on the text.

Contributing via NetlifyCMS (Experimental)

NetlifyCMS is a Git-based content management system (CMS) that provides a Google Docs-like interface for editing content. In other words, this means that you won't need to know anything about (a) Git, (b) Markdown, or (c) web development to make your contribution.

If you'd rather stick with the Git way of editing content, see below.

Note: The following steps specifically cover editing an existing page.

Step 1: Access NetlifyCMS

To access NetlifyCMS for the Handbook, navigate to the Handbook content manager. If you haven't made a contribution before, NetlifyCMS will prompt you to login with GitHub. If you don't have a GitHub account, create one.

Because the Handbook is built and served by Pages, you'll also need to request access to Pages before you can use NetlifyCMS. Pages uses for authentication, so you'll need a account before requesting access to Pages.

Step 2: Find the page you'd like to edit

Using the search feature, search by the title of the page you are looking to edit. It should come up in the results; click it to open the editor.

Arrow pointing to the Netlify search bar

Step 3: Make your changes and save

NetlifyCMS lets you edit content in either Rich Text or Markdown, so feel free to use whichever makes you feel more comfortable. When you're done making your changes, click the 'Save' button at the top of your screen. Note: NetlifyCMS does not offer auto-saving at this time.

When you save for the first time, a pull request will be automatically opened.

Action Item: You should change the title and body of the pull request to make more sense, since it will be pre-filled by NetlifyCMS.

Arrow pointing to the Netlify save button

Step 4: Update the status of your change from 'Draft' to 'In Review'

We've enabled the "editorial workflow" feature of NetlifyCMS, which allows content editors to more easily track the status of proposed changes. When you first click save, your changes will have 'Status: Draft' attached. Once you feel that your changes are ready for others' review, use the dropdown to change the status to 'In review'.

You can also change the status by using a Trello-like board. To change the status, simply drag the card associated with your changes from the 'Drafts' column to the 'In Review' column.

Arrow pointing to the 'In review' status

Step 5: See your changes through!

At this point, your changes should be officially marked as ready for review -- great work! You should hear back from certain content owners regarding your changes; they should work with you to get your change merged into the main Handbook repository.

At the time of writing, the review process is primarily handled in GitHub. If you aren't familiar with this tool, that's okay -- see our Intro to GitHub for a brief primer. For most people, the important things to know in GitHub are: (a) how to login, (b) how to comment, request changes, or approve pull requests, and (c) how to create issues.

Screenshot of the GitHub pull request

Other benefits

  • Access the build preview directly: At the top right hand side of NetlifyCMS, click 'View Preview' to see your changes deployed on a live, mock Handbook, courtesy of Pages. Check out the build preview docs for more information on this feature.

Contributing via Git

If you're not familiar with how to edit Markdown through GitHub, see Intro to GitHub and's Using GitHub for Content Creation.


Random technical details:

Front matter

The Handbook has a special questions front matter variable for pages:

  - name-of-slack-channel
  - text: The text to display

It is optional, and can contain one or more Slack channel name, email address, and/or link.


We use Prettier to enforce a standard formatting for all Markdown files. If code is pushed to GitHub and is not well-formatted via Prettier, it will automatically be fixed by a bot; you have the option to run Prettier locally before pushing to avoid this extra commit, but it is not required. To format your code locally, run:

npm run lint

Fork or branch?

Forking and branching are two ways of submitting pull requests to edit the Handbook.

If you are using the GitHub website built-in editing features, you do not have to choose: GitHub will make the correct choice for you.

If you are using your Terminal / local git to edit:

  • TTS teammates: Please use branching to submit pull requests. Federalist Preview sites will only be built from a branch, and continuous integration can only succeed for PRs created from branches. If you are a TTS teammate and don't get an option to build a branch, request access to the 18F Staff team on #admins-github
  • External contributors: Please use forking to submit pull requests, since non-TTS contributors do not have write access. Unfortunately, we won't be able to run Federalist Preview sites for your pull request; please build and serve the site locally to test instead.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in #tts-handbook.

Thank you so much for your contributions! :tada:

File/folder structure

New files should be created in the pages directory and in the sub-directory that makes the most sense for your content. For example, a new page on an 18F process should go in the pages/18f directory.

Pull requests (PRs)

Each pull request should be reviewed by at least one other TTS staff member before merging. Once a PR is approved, anyone can merge it (including the original submitter).

If you make a pull request that's best reviewed by a specific person, tag or assign it to that person. It can also help to ping them in Slack to ask for review.


The TTS Handbook uses the GitHub "code owners" feature to automatically add content owners as a reviewer. This means that in most cases, you as a contributor should not need to manually add anyone for a review.

If you suspect that the wrong team was added as a reviewer, feel free to open a pull request to change the CODEOWNERS file, located at the top level of the project.

How to review and merge pull requests

Any TTS staff member can review a pull request. If it's not your area of expertise, ask somebody who has expertise in that area (for instance, by commenting to tag a person or sharing the PR in Slack). If the author of the pull request added a specific person as a reviewer, hold off merging the pull request until at least one specified reviewer has had a chance to review it.

A note to submitters: If you need multiple people to see your PR before it's merged, please add a comment letting reviewers know!

If you're not sure, ask for a second opinion in #tts-handbook first.

If you're reviewing a pull request made using NetlifyCMS

Pull requests made using NetlifyCMS should only be reviewed when the label is changed from netlify-cms/draft to netlify-cms/pending_review or netlify-cms/pending_publish.

Using repo specific labels

  • do not merge yet: Delay merging this pull request until the label has been removed
  • help wanted: Need additional assistance
  • In progress: Currently being worked on
  • info is incorrect/outdated: The current information that is there needs tending to
  • new content needed: There is information that is not present that should exist
  • <2 hours: Easy peazy, lemon squeezy
  • 2-4 hours: Hold my callz
  • >4 hours: Ooph, its a doozy!

Content and accessibility

The handbook follows the 18F content guide, and all content should follow web accessibility best practices. Remember to use descriptive link text.

Public domain

This project is in the public domain within the United States, and copyright and related rights in the work worldwide are waived through the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain dedication.

All contributions to this project will be released under the CC0 dedication. By submitting a pull request, you are agreeing to comply with this waiver of copyright interest.

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