I offer this for peer review. Please read the note at the end for more information. Feel free to offer your feedback however you receive this, Facebook, Twitter, or on this blog.
Best Practice: Document links should state what type of document will open, that it will open in an external window, and when clicked, it should open in a new window.
Users should be warned that the link will open an application, produce sound, or require another application to run. This is especially necessary from an accessibility standpoint for users with disabilities.
Usability guru Jakob Nielson forbids new windows, though he on occasion has made a case for its use when linking to application and non-Web documents such as PDFs and Word Documents. We will include stand alone media that is not embedded within a page.
The university department’s Web standards use new windows for all documents including, but not limited to, Power Points, Word, PDF, and non-embedded multimedia. Non-embedded multimedia is media that appears within a window devoid of normal Web page navigation. A webinar or video clip which pops up into a blank page where navigation links are included only for interaction with the video and not to navigate the site the video is hosted on. In other words, the page does not contain brand recognition (banner headers, site navigation, etc.)
Recommendations for linking to documents are the use of universally accepted icons, mouse over text in the ALT or TITLE tag, and link text.
Bad: Interviewing Skills Basics
Better: Our Interviewing Skills Basics (PDF) covers many of the techniques applicants should use to prepare for an interview.
The best method would be to also include HTML code in the link TITLE attribute (or in the ALT attribute if the link is an image) that will show help text on a mouse over:
<a href=”[theURL]” title=”PDF – Requires Adobe Reader – Opens in new window”>Interviewing Skills Basics (PDF)</a>
Best Practice: You should try to avoid linking directly to documents (Word, PDF, or otherwise) that are not on your site. Try to find a page on the external site that explains what the document is, and allows the visitor to link from there. The link should not give the visitor the assumption that your site is affiliated with the external site or produced the document.
The issue with linking to external documents is that proper branding and attribution is lost. Sometimes the URL of the site the document resides on is not even displayed in the browser address bar further cloaking the owner of the document and thus bringing up issues over copyright and plagiarism.
 Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, August 29, 2005: Open New Windows for PDF and other Non-Web Documents http://www.useit.com/alertbox/open_new_windows.html
Please note: This is a living document about to be released from its first draft. Even after the first version is complete, it will evolve as I discover new studies/resources and receive feedback. I am placing it on the Web for any comments, questions, or feedback. Though it is written for the staff of a private college career and counseling center there are many points that may be useful for the community at large. Contact me, post comments, agree or disagree. I just ask for feedback and hope we can benefit from this peer review together. I will add comments to this post or post newer updates under the tag: “Writing for the Web”