3 Easy content writing tips for GOV.UK websites
By David Winstanley
While private sector websites typically strive to engage and entertain audiences, usability, readability and value should always be foremost considerations when writing content for public sector websites.
The current world of online content and habitual use of websites and social media channels have evolved far beyond the initial functions of the world wide web.
Online habits of users require websites to work harder to deliver content faster and offer a more encompassing experience than ever before.
Quality content that’s well presented and thoughtfully created helps to ensure a smooth user experience, where expectations are managed and the reputation of the organisation remains intact.
Nowhere is this more vital than in official government websites. Be they GOV.UK or government-run or funded.ORG sites or affiliated online resources, the expectations of users on public sector content are far greater than those of SMEs. And rightly so.
When writing content for public sector websites and online government materials, it’s important to remember 3 things:
1. Once you go live, there’s no going back
News outlets will often tweak content in real-time throughout the day based on audience engagements. For example, an opinion article may start the day with an attention-stealing headline. A few hours later the lead image might change, by lunchtime, the intro could be tweaked and come evening the headline itself may have been toned down considerably.
While this may be a great strategy for content in the private sector, public sector bodies adopting this approach would be at risk of scrutiny for ‘manipulating’ content.
In the public sector field, it’s important to ensure that all information you publish is factually correct at the time of publishing. You should also ensure it has been sense-checked and approved by stakeholders to ensure it doesn’t clash with information elsewhere or inflame contentious issues.
2. No mercy will be shown for spelling and grammar gaffs
Spelling and grammatical errors are often found on listings on an auction site like eBay, personal websites or that of a small business, like local bookshops or restaurants. While it may pain us in the moment, the majority of the British public are happy to let minor inaccuracies on such sites slide, attributing them to human error.
Step into the public sector arena and it’s a whole new ball game.
The nature of government websites means that users understandably expect a demonstration of best practice, accurate and correctly-spelt information. After all, it is on these sites that residents and citizens are expected to pay tax, be guided on benefits and entrusting forms with sensitive personal data.
Any basic errors, like a simple typo, can result in significant reputational damage and dent public confidence in the site and associated service.
3. Content must be created for all
Equality and diversity is proudly at the top of the agenda for most organisations in today’s climate, and yet it seems that inclusivity is easily forgotten when crafting website content. In September 2018 GDS released new regulations on accessibility that all public sector websites must adhere to or risk breaking the law.
There are many reasons why people may struggle to use a digital service – working from a noisy cafe, limited technical know-how, low literacy and reading skills. Whenever creating content for public sector websites, you must ensure it’s accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities.
Always test your content to make certain it’s user-friendly. It’s helpful to create user personas, thinking about the different needs of those with hearing, visual, cognitive and motor disabilities and how accessibility may affect them.
On a basic level, using plain English and following GOV.UK’s style guide will help to ensure your content is easy to understand.
We believe that every project should begin with users and their wants and needs – content writing is no different. Keep things simple, straight-forward, accessible and accurate and you can’t go far wrong.