How to structure
Structure content in a way that makes it easy for users to find and understand information.
Main headings must describe the page content, so users can select the correct page from the search results.
- be concise
- use plain English
- be front-loaded - "Pay your council tax" is better than "How to pay your council tax online"
- be unique
- include search terms
- not include date/time information
- use sentence case (an initial capital then lower case)
Use lead sentences to set out the purpose of a page and keep it concise. This helps people know if they are on the right page.
It will be the first sentence on the page, found directly beneath the main heading. It will be the first sentence that a user sees and it will use a larger font to other text.
If a page has little content and is clearly described by the title and headings, it's unlikely to need a lead sentence.
Designing page content
When creating content we must make sure that it meets user needs. Consider the following:
1. Hierarchy of content
Put the information that most people are looking for first.
Cut out the waffle, making sure each sentence has a single subject which builds on the last sentence. This will give our writing a clear sense of progression, allowing users to be clear on what we have to say.
Try focusing on the user's perspective of what they will need as opposed to what we think they will need.
We don't want to put all of the information on the page as it may confuse the user.
2. Short sentences and paragraphs
Only give users the information they need to complete their task.
Try to break the text up into different paragraphs where appropriate so that it's easier to read. It helps the user find what they're looking for faster, and breaks down complicated information into simpler, manageable points.
Limit paragraphs to two or three sentences or break up text with bullet points.
We follow guidance from the Government Digital Service which recommends limiting sentences to 25 words. The more you write, the less people are likely to understand. Check your sentence length. Analyse your text using a tool from the Plain English Campaign.
Clear, informative subheadings which break the information up into identifiable sections make scanning a webpage for information much easier for a user, particularly if they are on a mobile device. We should remind ourselves that many users will use mobile browsers to access our content.
Don't use text formatting, such as font size or bold to give the visual appearance of headings - use HTML heading tags (<h1> - <h6>) for all content headings. Web browsers, plug-ins, and assistive technologies can use them to help navigate the page.
It's important to front-load subheadings so that people can find what they're looking for as quickly as possible. For example, we would write "Pay your Council Tax" rather than "Find out how to pay for your council tax online". You should ask yourself "does this text make sense with subheadings removed?"
Always link to online services first as we proactively encourage users to self-serve. Link text should be specific and relevant. You can offer offline alternatives afterwards where suitable. For example 'You can set up a direct debit to pay your council tax or pay at your First Stop Shop'.
Most links on content pages should be in-text links. For example:
- 'Guidance on Freedom of Information exemptions and making requests is available from the Scottish Information Commissioner'
- 'To find out more about the public register for environmental information, contact the Environment Agency'
If the party you are redirecting to uses their URL as a brand name use that instead, like GOV.UK.
Links should make sense out of context because screen reader users often choose to list all links on a webpage. For example, instead of 'contact the Environment Agency', it should be 'contact the Environment Agency'. The word 'contact' would be ambiguous if read out of context. Phrases such as "click here," "more," "click for details," should be avoided for the same reason.
Use links to redirect the user instead of duplicating content or information that already exists on another page.
You can also redirect to external websites but only if they are:
- secure, such as GOV.UK
To check if a site is secure, look for a padlock icon in the address bar or the prefix 'https://'. The 's' indicates 'secure'.
Use terms that are simple to read and understand for people with visual or learning disabilities.
Don't use directive phrases like 'click here' or 'To the right of the page...'
"Click here" takes the user's attention away from the interface and on to their mouse. It also affects readability by concealing what the user is clicking (they're forced to read the words around the link, causing delay, rather than scanning for links and finding what they're looking for).
"Click here" is ineffective for a screen reader user. Just as sighted users scan the page for linked text, visually-impaired users often use their screen readers to scan for links. Using descriptive text properly explains the context of the link to the screen reader user.
"Click here" should also be avoided as there are no clicks on touch-screen devices.
"To the right of the page" is inappropriate as many of our users will view content on a mobile device and responsive mobile layouts can change the positioning of web elements.