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Publishing 'official documents' the right way

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If you’ve published your organisation’s annual report and accounts, a response to a select committee report or a major policy document to GOV.UK, then you may have published an ‘official document’ without knowing it. You may have seen some blog posts over the past year on this subject.

What official documents are

‘Official documents’ are documents which government organisations ‘lay before Parliament’. These documents are varied, but can be identified by a sentence on the first page stating that the document has been ‘presented’ to Parliament.  The National Archives has a list of all types of official documents.  Some examples are:

  • command papers, eg policy documents, international treaties and government responses
  • House of Commons papers, eg annual reports and accounts, reports of inquiries, reports of investigations and independent inquiries
  • un-numbered act papers, eg some codes of practice and annual reports

Publishing official documents

Over a year, around 650 official documents will be produced, about half are published during the busy annual report and accounts season in June and July.

These documents must be published on GOV.UK to ensure users can access them all in one place. This includes official documents for organisations that are exempt from publishing other content on GOV.UK. Speak to your parent department if your organisation is exempt, and they’ll help you to arrange for them to be published.

Official documents are often high-profile publications, so it’s important to add the correct metadata to your official document so users can find it. The metadata that you need to add includes:

  • the document’s web and print ISBNs
  • the House of Commons (HC) number and Parliamentary Session for a House of Commons Paper
  • the Command Paper (Cm) number for a Command Paper
  • the URL to order a copy

Most of this information can be found on the document’s cover and on the copyright page (usually page 3).

You should add the metadata to the relevant field when you upload the PDF. You also need to make sure that you upload both a:

  • web-optimised PDF
  • high resolution PDF for printing

House of Commons papers

When you’re publishing a House of Commons paper, you’ll need to select the correct Parliamentary Session year. Check Parliament’s website or with your department’s Parliamentary team if you’re unsure of the session. Bear in mind that the session year won’t necessarily be the same as the period that a document covers - particularly for annual report and accounts.

You can read more about how to publish official documents on GOV.UK.

Training for content designers

The training that new GOV.UK content designers get has been updated to include a section on official documents. This will help them recognise these important documents and tag them correctly on GOV.UK.

Dates for training are below:

  • 20 January: Using Whitehall publisher
  • 22 January: Writing for GOV.UK as a press officer
  • 27 January: Writing for GOV.UK
  • 27 January: Using Whitehall publisher
  • 16 February: Using Whitehall publisher
  • 17 February: Writing for GOV.UK

Please contact your organisation’s GOV.UK lead to book a place.

You can email if you have any queries about official documents, including whether a document should be treated as an official document.

This is a guest post from Graeme Paterson of The National Archives.

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