A summary of what everyone writing for GOV.WALES must do to meet user needs.
How people read online
Users read differently on the web than they do on paper, they:
- are unlikely to read all the content
- tend to scan to identify the content that meets their current needs
Good online content is easy to read, it uses:
- short sentences
- plain English
This helps people quickly find and understand what they need. It also helps us update content more easily, there are fewer words to update and translate.
Our guidance on writing for GOV.WALES is based on research into how people read online and use GOV.WALES.
Meet the user need
Do not publish everything you can online. Start by thinking about what the user needs to know and write to meet this need.
Use plain English
Use plain English, it’s easier for users to read and understand.
Do not use formal or long words when casual or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, and ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’.
Do not use long sentences. Keep average sentence length to 20 words or fewer.
We lose trust from people if we write government buzzwords and jargon. These words are often too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or meaningless text.
Use Hemingway Editor and make sure there are no ‘very hard to read’ sentences. Do not paste sensitive unpublished information into Hemingway, it is a security risk. Use the Flesch-Kincaid reading level tool (on Microsoft) instead.
Content for specialists
Higher literacy people prefer plain English (on GOV.UK) because it allows them to quickly understand the information.
People understand complex specialist language, but do not want to read it if there’s an alternative. This is because people with the highest literacy levels and the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read.
Do not use FAQs
Do not use FAQs, they usually require users to work harder to find and understand content.
Most users arrive from a search engine. Use the words of your users to help them find and understand your content. Compare alternative words using Google Trends.
Use no more than 65 characters and be specific, for example do not use:
- changes to health services
Make it more specific, for example identify the audience and purpose:
- making changes to health services: guidance for the NHS
Headings should be a few words of helpful, descriptive text which aid page scanning.
Try to use a heading every 2 paragraphs to help visitors distinguish which blocks of text are for them as they scan a page.
Use the appropriate heading style for each heading. The page title is an H1 (heading level 1) then the first sub-heading is an H2.
Avoid presenting headings as questions. 'Who can apply' not 'Who can apply?'.
Use links to help users find information relevant to their current activity.
Good link text:
- describes its purpose
- makes sense out of context
Do not use links like:
- click here
- more info
Use links like:
- apply for an empty homes grant
- learn more about changes to speed limits in your area
- register your organ donation decision quickly and easily online or over the phone
Tables should only be used to present data, this data should usually be numeric.
Do not use tables to present information that could be displayed as a list.
Only use images if they:
- are necessary to explain something which cannot be explained using text, for example a map
- help users understand information in a different way, for example a graph
Text is usually preferred as it:
- is more accessible, for example easier to read using screen magnifiers
- resizes better across devices
- tends to be more visible to search
Avoid images which contain text. Write it in the body text instead.
Write to GOV.WALES style
Follow the GOV.WALES style guide. It is based on user testing and advice from colleagues on appropriate language, including:
- avoid all capitals and initial capitals
- be specific about date ranges, for example April 2021 to March 2022 not 2021 to 2022
- words to use when writing about disability
- do not use bold text
- do not use italics
- how to write numbers
Use the right format
Most content should be published as web pages (sometimes known as HTML pages). This means that everyone can use our website.
Check your content is meeting user needs:
- review web analytics
- encourage and review feedback
Review your content to ensure it remains accurate and is removed when no longer required.