Writing digital content

The purpose of our website is to present clear, user-focused information. This enables people to interact with us efficiently.

We should avoid publishing content which is:

  • overly detailed
  • about something we are not responsible for
  • does not directly help people to complete a task

We should always carry out these basic checks:

1.    Only publish original content

Do not copy content, especially from private sector sources. It can cause copyright issues.

Changes to the source information may also not be reflected on our web pages.

Always link to third-party content where they are the primary source (for example, GOV.uk).

2.    Make sure it's easy to read

The average reading age in the UK is about nine years old. By writing with this age group in mind, we are being inclusive.

The average reading age is not about intelligence – it’s about speed of understanding.

Example one

Constantly observing cold water rising in temperature until it arrives at the boiling point of 100 degrees, will not, in fact, make it come to that temperature faster than staring at the nearest wall.

Example two

Watching water boil won’t make it boil any faster.

Most nine year olds can read both but the second example is quicker and easier to digest.

This approach also applies to technical or complex content for a specialist audience. 

Clear language is the fastest route to helping someone understand content. You should use:

  • simple vocabulary (find out more about plain English)
  • 'you' and 'we'.  For example, instead of 'Lincolnshire County Council will' say 'We will'
  • clear and meaningful page titles and sub-headings
  • one idea per paragraph
  • short sentences (fewer than 25 words)
  • bullet points to draw attention to important points
  • no block capitals, italics or underlines for emphasis

Find out more about writing good digital content on GOV.uk.

3.    Ensure it answers a question that people are asking

Every piece of content must meet a valid user need. It should not be published just because we have the information.

You must check if the content:

  • relates to a specific council service
  • meets the needs of the user, as well as the council
  • has a potential audience large enough to justify publishing the information
  • has a potential audience able to or likely to access the information online
  • meets a statutory requirement related to the publishing of this information

Always ask why a user would visit the webpage and what you would expect them to do next. If you cannot answer this question then the content should not be published.

Content that does not meet a user need will clutter the website. This makes it harder for people to find what they're actually looking for. It also wastes our time having to manage it.

4.    Use search words that make sense to the public

When writing content, use language that the public would use and search for.  This will help boost your content ranking in searches as the text will match the terms that people are searching for.

For example, on GOV.uk there is a page called ‘Renew your tax disc’. The correct term is ‘Renew your vehicle licence’, but very few people search for that.

Find out more on using search words on the local.gov website.

5.    Avoid images and graphics

Do not use images or graphics for task-based or information-based content. People do not want ‘decorative’ images that add no meaning.

Images hinder the user by increasing page load times, especially on mobile devices. They also cause problems for people with accessibility issues, if not applied properly.

If an image would help people understand the content, we can make exceptions. We must have direct permission to use them. Do not copy them from search engines.

The main exceptions are news stories and press releases. These are specific content types with a different purpose.

If you must use visual content, add alternative text (alt text).  This provides a description for those people who cannot view it.  Right click on the image and select edit alt text.

Do not use text in images.  If you cannot avoid doing this, repeat the text in the document.

If your document has a graph or diagram, explain what it is conveying in the document text.

Find out more about about using images on the local.gov website.

6.    Weblinks

Use meaningful text for weblinks, usually this is the title of the page you are linking to.  Screen readers scan documents to find a list of links.  Do not use 'click here' as there is no indication to where it is linking.

7.    Colour

Do not use colour alone to convey information.  For example, a colour-blind person cannot distinguish between a green button or a red button.  Put explanatory text with each button to say what they mean.

Any text colour used must have sufficient contrast to the background. The higher the contrast, the more people can see the content. To check, use a colour contrast checker.

8.    No frequently asked questions

Do not use frequently asked questions (FAQs). If our content meets our users' needs, they will not have any FAQs. If we do get asked frequent questions, we must review the content.

FAQs show that we've thought about the content but not the user. They also lead to duplicate content. This competes in search with the pages people actually need.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has a blog about this – read FAQs: why we don’t have them.