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Content clinic 17 March 2015: what we talked about

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At the most recent content clinic we tried out a new format - an ‘unconference’. Everyone suggested what they wanted to talk about and then we voted.

The most popular topics were:

  • how can reviewers see a preview of HTML publications
  • dealing with content that has no clear user need
  • changing policy language

Reviewing HTML publications

When you submit an HTML publication for 2i, reviewers can’t view the HTML attachment. Umair from UKTI shared a solution:

  • in Whitehall, click ‘View on website’
  • open the HTML attachment
  • in your browser, go to the file menu and click on ‘save page as’
  • select ‘web page, HTML only’ (don’t save as ‘web page, complete’)
  • email the html file as an attachment

Content with no clear user need

We discussed some of the reasons we’re all asked to publish content we don’t think should be on GOV.UK:

  • GOV.UK is seen as a convenient place for publishing content
  • requests are not always within GOV.UK proposition
  • the role of content designers isn’t understood
  • content designers aren’t involved in content planning
  • publishing content on GOV.UK is the last thing people think about

Everyone finds it difficult to say no when senior officials want something published. But we came up with a few ways to reduce friction:

  • spend time with policy people - explain your role, and how you decide if content meets the GOV.UK proposition
  • take time to understand the work of policy teams
  • suggest using a different channel for some content, like a blog
  • find someone from a policy team who understands GOV.UK style, and work with them to improve their content

The pre-election period is a good time to work on these suggestions.

Dealing with short deadlines

Most editors are sometimes asked to publish content with little or no notice.

Some organisations insist that requesters send the final documents to editors at least 5 days before the publication deadline. But of course it still happens, and sometimes it’s tough to say no.

HMRC asks colleagues to involve content designers from the beginning, when they're creating their content. The content team asks for:

  • source material
  • a user need
  • a description of the required changes

If content request forms are submitted without any of the above, the request is rejected. They’ve found this approach is especially helpful in making colleagues think about user needs.

Policy language

Policy language is hard for most users to understand and doesn’t conform to GOV.UK style. Editors who try to turn policies into plain English are often told they’re changing the meaning. This isn’t the case - but it’s important to distinguish between policy language and legal language, which can’t be changed.

Using data as evidence

It can be hard to try and change the mindset of colleagues from other teams. We end up getting bogged down in daily battles. It’s frustrating, and makes us feel powerless. But think about how these situations can be used to your advantage.

Keep a note of anything you’re asked to publish that you don’t think should be. After 3 months, look at the analytics for these pages. Building up evidence that supports your judgement can help you push back on requests in the future. We’re looking at ways to improve FeedEx, which should also help you. And keep track of good examples too.

Tagging official documents

Graeme Patterson from The National Archives explained how official documents should be tagged on GOV.UK. Almost all organisations must publish their annual accounts, which are classified as official documents, so it’s important to know how to tag them correctly.

Graeme highlighted that:

  • you need to publish both a web-optimised and a print-ready PDF
  • the web-optimised and print-ready documents may have different ISBNs
  • the parliamentary session and financial reporting year are usually different

Read how to how to create an official document in our guidance.

Content critique (‘crit’)

Finally, we reviewed a piece of content that Lucy from the Government Equalities Office brought along.

As well as specific suggestions, there was some more general advice which can be applied to any tricky piece of content:

  • look at what people are searching for around your subject and use the same terms
  • pay special attention to H2s, which search engines will pick up
  • keep an eye on FeedEx comments to identify problems
  • check pageviews - if they’re low, there might not be a strong user need for the page

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