On 19 May 2015, we held a content clinic at the Department for Education, with 15 editors from 8 organisations.
Quantitative content analysis
To start, Jonathan Richardson spoke about Defra’s smarter guidance programme, and how he’s built a tool to measure how good your content is, using readability metrics like words per sentence and reading age. While the tool is not ready to be rolled out to a wider audience yet, anyone can use free tools like the Hemingway app or The Readability Test Tool to get metrics on individual pages.
Alan Maddrell spoke about the recent changes to GOV.UK’s policy formats, following extensive user research. User testing showed that the introductions on the old policy pages were seen as spin and weren’t being read. Users preferred the policy papers and publications published by departments and organisations.
The bland text at the top of the new policy pages is holding text. If you are the lead organisation on a policy and want to change the text, look at our guidance on the introductory text for policies and send us draft text (under 350 characters) on a support ticket. The GOV.UK content team will review the draft for consistency and get agreement with any other organisations involved. All changes will need to be approved by the policy implementation unit (PIU) of the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for coordinating policy across government. Please do not send us approved text, as we will 2i and PIU might request changes. We will share best practice as soon as we have more examples.
We don’t know yet how long this process will take, but we’ll try to make this as fast as possible.
Though GDS can help coordinate proposals for policies that have joint ownership, we encourage policy experts in organisations with joint policy ownership to draft new text together. We expect that will be more efficient.
If a current policy is being discontinued, you are proposing it should be split or its title/name should be changed, please contact GDS via the support form.
GDS is still working on the policy format, so look for further filters for organisations, formats and people over the next few weeks. We’ll blog and put messages on Basecamp as soon as these are available. We’ll also update our guidance once we’ve ironed the kinks out of the process.
GDS is in the (very slow) process of replacing topics/policy areas with topics/former specialist browse as the organising principle for GOV.UK, connecting all browse to help users who prefer to navigate the site via browse instead of search.
Expect page tagging and taxonomy to continue changing as we get closer to having a single information architecture (IA) for the whole site.
Most importantly: don’t tag content to a policy unless you want it to appear on the policy page. Because the policy names are not as specific as they were before, think about your users and where they will look for policy content. Keep in mind that the audience for government policy content is very small.
We’ve been asked about ordering and highlighting certain policies on organisation home pages and we are looking at this at the moment.
Withdrawing and redirecting
Content designers were not clear on when to archive and when to redirect, asking for better guidance and more examples. GDS are writing guidance with better examples. But the example that we discussed at the clinic was 3 pieces of duplicated content, rewritten and merged into a new piece of content. We unpublished 2 of the pieces and redirected to the rewritten third piece of content. Unpublishing was the correct choice here because the original, duplicate content had been published mistakenly.
Several content designers asked about using glossaries for specialist terms. We don’t think this is the best way to meet the needs of specialist users, as it legitimises jargon and creates more complex user journeys by forcing users to click away from the page they were on when they got confused.
Instead, we suggest organisations establish conventions for presenting their specialist terms succinctly and effectively that content designers can use each time they create new content. We call these ‘content design patterns’. We use them across our mainstream content so that we’re consistent, on things like how we format opening hours and how we indicate that we’re linking to a form, service, or devolved administration’s content.
We also talked about a brave new world where content designers have input on the naming of schemes, policies and programmes, so we don’t have to explain as much. It’s certainly something to aim for.