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Content quality spot checks explained

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: How we work, Working with us

The information in this blogpost may now be out of date.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

We've been piloting an editorial quality report for departments to help maintain the content’s clarity and usability.

These reports are a chance for departments to get detailed feedback on content quality and identify areas for improvement. We're now working on the second round of these reports so it's time to explain them and share the criteria we use.

Spot check report: how it's put together

We take random samples of content from a given time period and look at how closely it follows GOV.UK style and principles.

We look at:

  • how much has been force published
  • where content isn’t following GOV.UK style and principles (errors)
  • how many articles need a rewrite

Force publishing: without a second pair of eyes

This figure should be 0%. Force publishing should only happen in exceptional circumstances. Even when content is force published, someone in the team needs to look it over as soon as is possible. Keeping an eye on this figure helps us to see how well departments’ internal quality processes are working.

40% of content checked in the first round of spot checks was force published and 50% of content needed a rewrite.

Checking content is to style

We check how closely it follows the style guide as well as guidance given on the Inside GOV.UK blog. When a GDS editor has reviewed the sample of content, it is checked again by a second editor and then re-edited. Where we find content isn’t to style, we count it as either a major or minor error and give an explanation of what the error is.

Major errors stop the user understanding the content or completely disrupt their experience on GOV.UK.

A title that doesn’t give the user any idea of what the content is about would be a major error as it actively prevents users finding content through search.

Minor errors make it harder for a user to understand or use the content.

Typos or incorrect Markdown would be minor errors.

When you’ll need to rewrite content

If we find content has more than 5 errors in the first 10 sentences, we'll ask your team to rewrite it.

We also ask departments to rewrite content if:

  • it's in the wrong format (eg a detailed guide that should be a policy supporting detail page)
  • it's in the wrong section of GOV.UK (eg it should be in the 'mainstream' section because it's information for citizens or businesses)
  • the text is so unclear that the page doesn't fulfill its main purpose

Criteria we use to decide errors

We've significantly refined the criteria we use. We've come up with the following list of major and minor errors. We want to be as transparent as possible about what we base our decisions on.

Major and minor error list for spot checks: Google Drive document
Major and minor error list for spot checks: PDF

Who sees the report

We send the full final report to the single point of contact (SPOC) for each department. Individual editors also get to see comments on content they have published.

High-level figures for each department are circulated to all departments once each round of spot checks is complete. These figures include force publishing rates, overall number of rewrites and the number of major errors per item.

If you haven’t seen one yet, ask your SPOC or managing editor to let you have a look at the last report for your department.

Please also send reports to the relevant policy teams so they can become more familiar with GOV.UK style. Helping policy teams understand the reasoning behind  GOV.UK style should help reduce the amount of re-editing for future content.

 Photo above by Mark Morgan on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

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  1. Comment by E.A. Brown posted on

    Very helpful checklist, thank you.

    Question: why is using hover text in links considered a minor error, when the advice in the style guide actually says 'You don’t need to put hover text on links'?

    If it's an *error* your style guide should read, 'Do not use hover text on links.'

    If it's *not* an error, it shouldn't be in your checklist.

    Please do not find fault where none exists, not even by your own guide's standards.

  2. Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

    Thanks for pointing this out. I've had a look and the Publisher manual could indeed be clearer. I've made the change you recommend.

  3. Comment by Andrew Robertson posted on

    Could you explain why the style guide says to use ‘and’ rather than an ‘&’, unless it's a department's logo image, yet the page is headed 'Departments, agencies & public bodies', and the sub-heading is labelled 'Agencies & other public bodies'?

    • Replies to Andrew Robertson>

      Comment by Graham Francis posted on

      For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
      Hoist with his own petar' [Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4]

      (I think we should probably fix this - thanks for pointing it out.)

  4. Comment by Liz posted on

    I think there's a mistake in the document. For Spaces it says the error is "One space after full stop, not 2". But according to the style guide (and all best practice I know), 1 space is correct, and 2 is the error.

  5. Comment by EA Brown posted on

    About links: I thought we were discouraged from putting links in summaries?
    "You can add links anywhere in body text, but not in titles, summaries or sub-headers."


    • Replies to EA Brown>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Links don't show in search results pages. The text you mention (on a topical event page) doesn't function in the same way as a summary on regular content items - they're quite different as a content type. The text isn't marked as a summary in the metadata. I agree it does seem unusual but there are some differences with those pages which explains it. Hope that helps.

  6. Comment by Keith Prust posted on

    Hi Alan

    We've just noticed there's a link at the top of the "UK economcy" topic page to the long term economic plan

    However, when this text is brought into the "We work on these topics" part of departmental homepages, the link doesn't transfer and the markdown appears, see:


    • Replies to Keith Prust>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Hi Keith
      Thanks for this. I've created a Zendesk ticket for this and reported it as a bug. The reference is 583803. I've copied you in on the ticket so you can see what's happening and chase if need be.