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The future of detailed guides

Reviewing detailed guides

Before we begin the agency transition, GDS has been reviewing the detailed guidance format. We’ve looked closely at the performance data, talked to departments about how they use it, and carried out user testing to see how it’s being received.

From this review, it’s clear the format isn’t working; the user experience is substandard, and publishers are confused about when to use the detailed guidance format. So we’re going to start making some changes to detailed guides including moving some, iterating the format and putting the brakes on new detailed guides.

Format iteration

We anticipate a growing body of guidance to be published on GOV.UK that:

* contains complex, technical information

* answer a specific, task-orientated user need

* is something government has a duty to provide

* addresses professionals and practitioners

* is written and updated by agencies and departments themselves

We want to develop a range of formats suitable for meeting the needs of users who require ‘detailed guidance’. We also want to improve the findability of guidance on GOV.UK through the use of improved browse pages. And, we want to iterate the backend features you use to create and manage guidance.

This process will naturally happen in the course of analysing the user needs and content of each of the ALB sites being transitioned to GOV.UK. But to supplement this, we will also conduct a series of exploratory workshops with colleagues in agencies and departments that have already transitioned their guidance content.

Moving non-detailed guides

We did a thorough content audit and identified that nearly half of the detailed guides - about 500 - aren’t in the correct format and should be moved.

For four weeks, a team of content designers will support organisations as they work out where to republish them on GOV.UK.

It’ll involve close analysis of user needs. Some will be straightforward to move (many should be publications, sub-organisations, news stories or case studies, for example), but we're also aware that some content has been created as a detailed guide because other GOV.UK formats weren't sufficiently flexible to accommodate it.

In particular, we found that editors wanted to be able to group and annotate documents in a document series, so we're starting to work on improving document series in this sprint.

No new detailed guides

The upshot of this is that from today you will no longer be able to create new detailed guides. Instead we ask that you publish content as a publication (preferably an HTML publication) with the type guidance.

Existing detailed guides will remain as they are for now, and you should continue to keep their content current.

We will keep blogging about developments in our work on detailed guides to let you know about further changes, and please get in contact if you want to be part of our workshops on guidance content.

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  1. Comment by Suzannah Brown posted on

    At the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency we have thousands of pages of guidance for professionals that meet user need but wouldn't fit into to a 1 page HTML guidance format, even with anchors as in the series format:

    What we need is a guidance format that has some sort of navigation to accommodate our guidance which make sup the majority of our content that will migrate.

    Are you planning to create a guidance format to accommodate this or are you going to modify the series format of the HTML format?

    • Replies to Suzannah Brown>

      Comment by Alice Newton posted on

      Hi Suzannah, thanks for your comment. I want to understand the need further: in the example you included, what do you think should be different? Is it simply that you're worried a page like this would get too long for some of your guidance?

  2. Comment by Ricky Leach posted on

    We started using detailed guidance pages for consular content exactly because it allows customers to search for items like 'baja consular' or 'marital status certificate' whereas within a publication we would have to hope that the customers are lucky enough to guess what we might have called the publication containing that information.

    The object of the website for us is to drive down consular enquiries by telephone (digital by default?) by supplying the best possible search options on our website.

    It is sad enough that customers STILL cannot get a search result for 'British Consulate Malaga' four months after consular went live on without adding to the things that are unsearchable by putting them in publications.

    We have just asked ALL countries in the world to prepare detailed guidance pages for their consular content. What a shame there was no prior notice of this snap decision to stop publishing them with immediate effect.

    • Replies to Ricky Leach>

      Comment by Alice Newton posted on

      Hi Ricky,

      Our work on detailed guides has been communicated via departmental SPOCs for many weeks.

      But it certainly is a problem that you cannot find 'British Consulate Malaga' (or equivalent) through search, and we've raised a ticket to improve this (you can follow it here: We're also continuing to improve search over all on GOV.UK.

  3. Comment by Ricky Leach posted on

    Alice, Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately I cannot use the pivotaltracker - is there a shared login we can all use to follow this story?

  4. Comment by Alice Newton posted on

    Ricky, since our Pivotal Tracker is public, you should already be able to see the story and where it is in the backlog. We only create accounts for our product team.

  5. Comment by Suzannah Brown posted on

    HI Alice,

    Yes the page would be too long. We have thousands of page of guidance grouped by topic and throwing a set of around 50 pages for one topic onto one page on GOV.UK doesn't fit with any best practice around user experience that I'm aware of. I understand that GDS have said that long scrolling pages have tested well. This hasn't been my experience in the 100s of user tests I've witnessed.

    I'm surprised that there is no content format for groups of pages as opposed to a generic PDF finder with pages attached. Lots of agency websites do have lots of pages. Perhaps GDS are working on this and there's something to look at via the pivotal tracker? All I've seen so far is a series which is a short-ish page with anchors.

    • Replies to Suzannah Brown>

      Comment by Alice Newton posted on

      Suzannah, could you please give an example of content like this from your current site?

      I agree that we wouldn't want to put 50 pages of guidance onto one page. Do take a look at our plans for a new annotated document series which will allow you to make collections of guidance or other content. As you move to GOV.UK, your transition manager will work with you closely to make sure that your users needs are met.

  6. Comment by Suzannah Brown posted on

    Alice, the series page you've referred to is the one I've mentioned above. It's a short-ish page, with anchor links to take you down the page with PDFs grouped on the page. It doesn't group HTML pages, just PDFs. The majority of pur content is lthousands of HTML pages of guidance that need either a left-hand nav or pagination to link them. I'm presuming someone in the product team must be working on a content type that allows for large groups of HTML pages.

    Our transition manager has referred us to this blog but they're also speaking to the product team.
    An example is here: