Our content standards are a guide for anyone that writes for our website. They help make sure our content is relevant, easy to find and easy to understand.
- 1. Only publish content people need
People will only use our content if they need it.
If our website is full of content they do not need, the important things are hard to find.
For every new piece of content it's important we're clear:
- who it's for
- what they need it for
We look at data and evidence to help us identify user needs or make sure they're valid. This includes search data, our website stats and user research.
We avoid duplicating existing content, whether that's on our own site or someone else's.
Find out more:
- 2. Choose the right channel
Not everything our organisation wants to say belongs on our website.
Some things are better suited to blog posts, newsletters or social media.
It’s important to remember our website has a job to do. Its most important functions are to:
- display our judgements about the quality of care
- publish guidance for health and social care providers
- give people a way to tell us about experiences of care
And those are just the main things. That’s already a lot. If we let our website get too complicated, its purpose is less clear.
- 3. Use the right format
Format is the type of file we use.
For example, we can publish content as a document people can download or a set of web pages. This decision can affect what we include and how we structure the content. So it's important to think about format from the start.
A few things to remember about publishing format are:
- we prefer to publish most content as web pages
- we avoid publishing PDF documents - one of the main reasons for this is PDFs are less accessible than web pages
- if we need to publish a file for people to download, we use Open Document Format
- we publish large sets of data in spreadsheet format so people can download it - tables are best used for simple data
- 4. Make sure it’s accessible
We need to make sure as many people as possible can use our content. This includes people who:
- use special technology like screen readers
- are colour blind
- have limited movement
- have a learning disability
But good accessibility is important at other times too. For example, subtitles can help when someone is in a noisy place.
We must meet accessibility requirements by law.
There are some basic accessibility rules we can keep in mind when we draft content.
- avoid using images or diagrams as the only way of communicating something
- if you do use a diagram, add a text description that gives the same information
Colour and contrast:
- never use colour alone to convey meaning
- always make sure there is enough contrast between foreground and background colours
- when we link to another page or document, we use text that describes the thing we’re linking to
- never use things like 'click here' or 'read more'
- avoid using the same text for each of a series of links - screen readers may not tell them apart ("read more, read more, read more")
- avoid using tables to lay out text - set the text out in a linear way instead and use headings to break up sections
- avoid merged cells and split cells - these can complicate reading order for screen readers
- instead think about splitting tables into more than one
- 5. Be concise
Shorter is better.
Looking for information online is different from, say, reading a book.
Online, people are more active. They come to our website with a goal or a task to complete. So it's important we give them what they need in the simplest possible way.
- 6. Structure it so the most important points stand out
When people read online, they tend to scan instead of reading every word.
There are a few principles we can follow to get the most important points across:
- use the inverted pyramid: main point first, then supporting information, background detail last (if it's needed)
- use headings to break up the text - these should say what the sections are about and you should be able to pick up the main points from the headings alone
- use bullets to list things
- front-load headings and bullets: put the most important words first
We avoid FAQs. It's a popular format among writers. But they're hard work for our users.
- 7. Use language that's simple and familiar
We aim for a reading age of 9. It's the ideal reading age because:
- it's simple enough that it's fast to read and easy for the brain to process
- our vocabulary is developed enough that we can say what we need to say
There are online tools you can use to measure reading age, like Hemingway. Or there’s the readability score in Word. Tools like this help us:
- break up sentences
- avoid subclauses and complexity
- use simpler words
- use the active voice
We use plain English. We prefer simple words over complex ones or jargon.
But it's important we use the words most familiar to our audience. So if a more technical term is the one our audience knows, that's what we should use.
We also avoid capitals and punctuation if they're not needed. These slow the reader down.
- 8. Use the right tone of voice
We aim for a direct, informal tone.
We're not trying to be chatty. But we need to avoid sounding too official as well.
We avoid the passive voice. And we address the reader as 'you'.
- 9. Follow the style guide
Our style guide sets out preferred words and punctuation. It also explains our way of setting out things like dates and numbers.
- 10. Have a plan for maintaining or retiring it
Everything we publish needs a review date. Or if it's only needed for a short time, we have to agree when to take it down. Otherwise our website gets full of old information.
To help us do this, we make sure everything has a content owner.