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When should you add change notes?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice

The information in this blogpost may now be out of date. See the current GOV.UK content and publishing guidance.

When updating a published page in the government ("departments and policy") section of GOV.UK, publishers have a choice of marking their update a "minor change", or entering "change notes" for a major change.

Here's a reminder of the consequences of that choice, and how the feature should be used.

What this feature does

If you select minor change, the page is updated silently and, other than the actual change you have made, nothing else happens. The fact that the page has been changed is not visible anywhere on the public site. Even the last updated date remains unaffected.

If you enter a change note, it signals that a substantive change has been made, and these things happen:

  • the "updated date" changes on the document
  • the change note is visible to end users in the document's history
  • a new message is sent to email subscribers, including the change note
  • a new item goes out in the atom feeds, including the change note
  • the document jumps to the top of the "latest" list on related organisation, topics and policy pages
  • the document jumps to the top of the publications/announcements/policies index page

What constitutes a minor change

You should select minor change for anything that does not substantively update the meaning of the content.

For example:

  • typographical corrections
  • style corrections
  • formatting corrections
  • fixes to broken links
  • changes to metadata/associations
  • adding alternative format versions of existing attachments
  • other, similarly minor amendments

What constitutes a major change

You should enter a change note when there is a substantive update to the content: something users would want to be alerted about and to be able to see in the page history forever after.

This includes updates either to the content on the page or to the content of any attached files.

This needn't be a big change - eg inserting or changing a single word or number could be substantive.

Use your judgement, basically.

For example you should decide on a case-by-case basis whether adding images, videos or translations constitutes a minor or major change. If the image/video/translated version is something users might be waiting for or it contains additional information then it would be worth entering a change note.

What to write in the change note

Change notes should be short descriptions of the change, starting with a past tense verb.



The following screenshots show how the change notes look to an email subscriber.

The good

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.20.45
This change note is informative and describes a substantive change to the content.
Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.19.17
This change note is informative and describes a substantive change to the content.

The bad

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.17.27
Typos are not substantive changes. This should have been published as a minor change.
Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.20.27
The "updated version" might well have contained a substantive update, but this change note is not informative enough to tell.


Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.20.54
The publisher has typed "minor update" into the substantive change note box instead of ticking the minor change option, triggering unnecessary alerts.



Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 09.19.32
The change note field is not to be confused with an internal editorial remark. We have slapped warnings all over the publishing UI, but evidently we need to evolve it some more to make it as clear as we can. We'll be looking at doing that soon. (The change referred to here would constitute a major change, but the note has not been written appropriately).

Final nag

Publishers should make sure to always use the "second pair of eyes" workflow. It's vitally important to check the right option has been selected and that any change notes entered by writers are clear and useful.

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