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GOV.UK now has an 'archiving' policy

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We've published a new policy about when content on GOV.UK should be withdrawn and, more importantly, when it should not.

It's been some time coming. Since organisations first began publishing content on GOV.UK about what government does and to meet the needs of specialist users, we've felt the need to put together a policy to state what content should be taken down and what should be kept. We hope it meets the needs both of users and of government.

Preserving the legacy

An archiving policy needs to fit the digital medium: immediate, but also allowing legacy.

With certain types of content, such as guidance, changes in legislation or process, the content needs to be monitored and updated regularly. This keeps it a constantly accurate guide to what users can do now.

Other things government publishes will always be accurate statements, eg statistics. And some types of content will be accurate when they were published but deprecate over time, eg policy statements and press releases.

However, users don't expect web content to be deleted or even updated just because time has passed.

If an organisation published research on a given date, that is a matter of public record so it should be preserved for future reference. Statistics, policy statements, reports and content in other formats don't become invalid because the landscape has changed and a new version has been published. They just move down the chronological list of what's been published.

News stories, speeches and press releases are the same. They're accurate statements of what happened at a point in time.

Labels for old things

Retaining this kind of content only works, of course, if it's completely clear to users when something is old.

Content relating to a previous government

If a news story relates specifically to the policies of a previous government, that should be made really clear to avoid confusion.

We're working on a new feature to make this clear to users, and will apply it automatically to all the existing content on GOV.UK which falls into this category. We'll be blogging soon about the work we're doing on this.

Content relating to a closed scheme or service

A common problem publishers encounter is what to do with guidance and forms for a scheme or process that no longer exists.

Currently we call this 'archiving' and it results in a page which looks like this. Users can still find these pages if they're specifically looking for them but the vast majority of people will only want to see the current version.

In future we'll look at changing how this appears to users and publishers, including terminology. An 'archive' of the internet is not what GOV.UK users need. The word 'archive' has associations of filing old paperwork and increasingly feels like a confusing way to describe what's really happening when web content is taken out of current circulation. We need a more meaningful way of describing content which has become inaccurate because it describes something that no longer exists. That is to consider them 'withdrawn', and that's the language we'll be using from now on.

The policy is in alpha

We spoke to a lot of people across government when designing the policy, but we'd like to hear what you think. Please let us know.

Photo: Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

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  1. Comment by Martin posted on

    Poiicy guidelines with a definate clearer understanding and direction is very much welcome on this one as I'm aware there are number of issues regarding archiving.

    Not only are there concerns of archiving content with everyday publishing, which now includes the issue of archiving of content with regards to the forth coming Purdah and election, but there is also the issue of how attachments to pages should be archived correctly.

    Though I am aware that there have been several discussions, be it by email/zen desk tickets with GDS/GOV.UK regarding archiving content and specifically the archiving of attachments/documents on publication pages, it feels like there has been a lack of guidance provided to publishers on how this should be correctly implemented.

    It almost feels like we are in limbo as we are not able to archive pages with attachments without clear direction on how this should be implemented. This in turn means that we are not able to advise our customers on what we require from them to ensure documents are correctly modified.

    Can I ask someone to provide some advice or guidance or an update on when guidance will be available as a clear direction on this issue is now required.

    • Replies to Martin>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Hi Martin
      We've heard from other colleagues in government how concerning the issue of attachments is. The current functionality around withdrawing content is going to be iterated. We did some exploratory work at the end of last year, identifying issues and possible solutions but I can't say when this will be taken forwards. Just to reassure you we're aware of the importance of the problem.

  2. Comment by Ale del Cueto posted on

    Hi Alan

    I've read through the new policy about when content on GOV.UK should be withdrawn, and I noticed that it doesn't include any information about redirecting.

    The policy talks about when to withdraw content and when to unpublish content, but not about when we should redirect content. I think this gap needs to be addressed because redirecting is essentially another way of upublishing content, and there doesn't seem to be any guidance that explains when redirecting content is desirable and when it isn't.

    • Replies to Ale del Cueto>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Hi Ale
      Quite so - redirecting is a kind of unpublishing. I'll have a look at how to reflect that in the policy.

      There might be a need emerging for practical guidance for publishers to accompany the policy, with scenarios etc. Would that definitely be useful?

      • Replies to Alan Maddrell>

        Comment by Ale del Cueto posted on

        Thanks, Alan. Yes, I think a more comprehensive guide that explains in what scenarios we should withdraw, redirect or unpublish would be really useful.

  3. Comment by E. Brown posted on


    I appreciate that this is alpha.

    Will beta include rewriting to GOV.UK style? Testing this text in Hemingway is bringing my screen out in technicolour.



    • Replies to E. Brown>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Hi EB (channelling EB White, no doubt)
      This is a formal document that has to speak to a wide range of people and capture some specific scenarios. We've pored over it a lot and it has to strike a balance between current functionality and future intentions. It also by necessity involves quite a few passive constructions. We'll certainly have a chance to look at simplifying the language if we can do this while preserving its tone and intent. Please let me know if there's anything that leaps out as easily fixable.

      • Replies to Alan Maddrell>

        Comment by E. Brown posted on

        Hi Alan,

        I'm more concerned that it's not clear who is responsible for the-work-no-longer-called-archiving - the bane of passive voice.

        So the paras titled:

        Content about what users can do

        The majority of people visiting departmental and agency content on GOV.UK are seeking to complete a task for work. They need access to official guidance or information so this should only be withdrawn [BY WHO?] if it is no longer accurate.

        There is however a need for users to be able to view outdated guidance. It will still be available to view on GOV.UK but it will be labelled as ‘withdrawn’ clearly to avoid confusion [BY WHO?]. This was previously known as ‘archiving’ [WHAT DO WE CALL IT NOW?].

        If a page is no longer accurate, it should either be updated [BY WHO?] or a link should be provided to the current information if this is available.


        I can rewrite this in active voice, but would need to know who is considered responsible for the not-quite-archiving.

        Re EB White: I'm flattered by the allusion but haven't even a snip on EB White's wit, or the elegance of 'Elements of Style'.

        He does inspire one's inner editor, though:



  4. Comment by Sheurie Warner posted on

    I would like to re-iterate Martin's comments that there is lack of guidance relating to the process for archiving file attachments.

    1. The archiving policy says content should be withdrawn if it prevents users mistakenly acting on outdated guidance. However, under the current process archiving a publication page does not also archive the file attachment. As is stated in the guidance, the file attachment remains findable in both GOV.UK and external search - this is a serious issue for our stakeholders. The reason they want the content to be archived is to prevent mis-information and users following outdated guidance but the current archiving process does not help with this - old document attachments are still findable.

    2. We have been trying to use a work-around by re-uploading files on pages to be archived with the document amended to say they are archived versions. However, our stakeholders have asked for specific guidence on how best this is to be done? Use watermarks on the PDF, what style/wording to use on the message etc? This has become a pressing issue for us - plesae could GDS give some indication when guidance on this matter will be issued?

  5. Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

    Hi Sheurie
    The intention is to look at functionality that would replace the necessity for doing any of this manual work.

    In the meantime it would not be productive to institute a standard approach for all documents. Watermarking with 'withdrawn' might be useful in some situations. If you need wording to put on documents, please stick close to the current messaging on withdrawn publication pages, sending users to the up-to-date version where available.

  6. Comment by Joe P posted on


    Is there an estimate on when we would start using "withdrawn" rather than "archived"? The blurb above says "that’s the language we’ll be using from now on." but the policy says it's in alpha, which suggests we should wait for it to be launched...



  7. Comment by Graham posted on

    How can both these statements be true? Either users expect to see the latest version or they don't.

    1. "users don't expect web content to be deleted or even updated just because time has passed"

    2. "the vast majority of people will only want to see the current version"

    Can you link to any evidence of the first claim?

    Please can you also explain why the UK Government Web Archive isn't enough? Why bother cluttering GOV.UK with very-much-less-useful content when someone else has preserved it for you?

    • Replies to Graham>

      Comment by Alan Maddrell posted on

      Hi Graham
      Perhaps this could have been clearer. There is a difference between guidance, which must be kept accurate or be clearly labelled as withdrawn to avoid confusion, and static content like news, statistics etc which don't become out of date so don't need to be changed when, for example, there is a change of government.

      This was based on user research, particularly interviews with people who use policy content. I don't have a URL to point you to, unfortunately.

      The UK Government Web Archive provides snapshots of websites at certain points in time, for the public record. It's not manually curated as the GOV.UK withdrawn content is. It's also not possible to manually trigger a snapshot of an individual page. If content is withdrawn on GOV.UK, that's happened because the content (mainly guidance) is out of date and no longer useful but should be preserved for reference. In terms of clutter, the intention is to make this withdrawn content less prominent to users.

      Hope this helps.