Content guidelines

You can use the Suffolk County Council web content guidelines to write clear and effective online information.

Help us improve these guidelines by emailing your feedback to digitalcontentteam@suffolk.gov.uk.

We've created these guidelines for suffolk.gov.uk content editors. 

You may also find this guide useful if you manage or edit:

  • county council service information websites
  • district, borough, town or parish council websites
  • NHS, police or other public sector websites
  • community or voluntary websites

Guidelines: how to plan, write and manage your content

You can read a summary of the content guidelines below. For more detail and examples read the full guidance.

Plan your content 

Plan your content before you start writing. 

Focus on the user. Structure your content based on a few questions, including:

  1. Who's looking for this information? 
  2. What do they need to know?
  3. Why will it help them?
  4. Can the user help themselves without accessing a council service?
  5. How can you make the most important information clear?
  6. Where does the user need to go next?

How to write for suffolk.gov.uk

You should:

  • publish content that's useful, specific and authoritative
  • aim for a reading age of 9 to 11 years old 
  • write clearly and simply in plain English
  • use short, simple everyday words
  • use the active voice 
  • address the user, for example: 'you can...'
  • keep your sentences short (fewer than 25 words)
  • make paragraphs concise (even one sentence)
  • avoid jargon
  • explain any technical, legal or other specialist words or phrases
  • use a neutral tone of voice
  • do use positive contractions, for example: 'We'll'
  • do not use negative contractions, for example: 'don't' 

Create clear page titles and summaries 

Your titles and summaries need to be clear, simple and descriptive. 

The character limit is: 

  • 65 for titles
  • 160 for summaries 

Page titles should be front-loaded. Put the format type (consultation, guidance) at the end of the title. 

Keep summaries active. Explain what people can do on the page. Avoid redundant words. 

Format your content 

People do not read a whole webpage. Your content needs to be easy to scan.

Use formatting techniques and features to make content clearer. You can use:

  • the inverted pyramid (most important information at the top)
  • sub-headings to make the page easier to scan
  • bold text for highlighting important details
  • bullet points for lists
  • tables for clear dates and times 
  • buttons for the most important link (for example: download, proceed to payment)
  • accordions and tabs to make page more usable

Adding links, documents, images and other media 

Make sure you understand how to publish different types of links, files and media.

Links

  • Make it clear where a link will take you
  • Make link text active, include a verb (for example: 'Find out more about tax on GOV.UK')
  • Add alternative text (alt text)
  • Open internal links in the same tab. Open external links in a new tab
  • Do not signpost without context, for example: listing links under a generic 'further information' heading'
  • do not link any part of headings

Documents

  • Publish information as page content (HTML) not files (such as PDF) wherever possible
  • Make your document file name meaningful
  • Format file links as: Download the example document (Word, 12KB)
  • Add alt text to the file link
  • Document file size should be less than 2MB

Images

  • Do not use images simply for decoration - images should have a purpose
  • Images should not contain text, as screen readers and search engines can not read it 
  • Make sure information in graph images is also accessible in the page content
  • Add alt text to images for accessibility and search
  • Ensure image quality is acceptable
  • Check detailed guidance for how to display images on a page

Other media

We can embed the following types of media on suffolk.gov.uk: 

  • Google maps 
  • YouTube videos
  • PageTiger/Issuu digital magazines
  • Infographics (such as Piktochart)

Follow the style guidance

The way we write should be consistent across every page on suffolk.gov.uk.

Make sure you know how to write things like:

  • acronyms
  • addresses
  • dates and times
  • money and fees
  • numbers and ages
  • units of measurement
  • web terms

Make your content accessible

Websites should be usable for all. No one should be digitally excluded from Suffolk County Council services. 

We work to Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) so our site is usable for everyone. 

As a website editor you should focus on the following areas to make your content accessible: 

Text content

  • Write clear, meaningful and descriptive page titles
  • Use headings and make sure they're structured properly
  • Ensure that instructions are explained properly
  • Link text should make sense in isolation
  • Check how to write dates, times and when to use special characters 

Images, video and audio content

  • Make sure any images have a description (alt text)
  • Check any video or audio content is properly described
  • Try to avoid images containing text (unless they are purely decorative)

PDFs and other documents

  • Make sure documents have clear, meaningful titles
  • Use the correct heading structure (using the document styles function)
  • Ensure the documents convey instructions in an accessible way
  • Check that any link text makes sense

Maps

  • It's hard to make maps accessible
  • Make sure there's an alternative for people who can’t see maps

Make your content easy to find in search engines

Many people start their visit to suffolk.gov.uk by using a search engine. This means it's important people can find your content in Google.

You can make your page easier to find. You should: 

  • write titles, summaries and page content in terms people use to search 
  • ensure your sub-headings are well structured
  • avoid publishing information as images
  • add alternative text to images
  • add metadata to the page
  • avoid duplicating content 
  • not publish pages with little information
  • get links to your page from authoritative, trusted websites

Edit and proofread before publishing

Before you publish you should: 

  • edit your content to make it clearer and more concise
  • proofread it to spot typos and other errors

Common mistakes to avoid include: 

  • misspellings 
  • homophones
  • tautologies
  • apostrophes
  • technical differences, for example: fewer versus less

Manage your content after publishing

After you publish your content you should: 

  • look at analytics to know how people are using your page
  • check your content for issues, such as broken links
  • keep your content and editing skills up to date

For more detail about anything in this summary, read the full guidelines. You can send your questions and feedback to digitalcontentteam@suffolk.gov.uk

This section includes: meeting user needs, questions to consider before you start

Meeting user needs

User needs are the reasons people use a website. 

People use suffolk.gov.uk to access local services. They're searching for information, or trying to complete a task. They are not here to browse. 

Meeting their needs means helping them find what they need quickly and easily. You should assume they have no prior knowledge of the page topic. 

Our content guidelines will help you write content to meet user needs effectively. 

Before you start: six questions

When planning your content, think about: 

  1. Who's looking for this information?
  2. What do they need to know?
  3. Why will it help them?
  4. Can the user help themselves without accessing a council service?
  5. How can you make the most important information clear?
  6. Where does the user need to go next?

You should plan and structure your content based on the answers. 

This approach will ensure you meet user needs for every page your write.

This section includes: how people read on the web, front-loading, reading age, plain English, tone of voice, sentences and paragraphs, active voice, addressing the user, when to use 'we', contractions, behaviour nudges, writing about disability

Principles of writing for suffolk.gov.uk

Your content should come across as:

  • useful by answering a question or helping to complete a task
  • simple by using common, everyday words and phrases
  • specific by using precise language, such as 'must' for legal requirements
  • concise by using short sentences and paragraphs, and only what's needed
  • authoritative by being straightforward, but not too casual or informal

How people read on the web

People read differently on the web compared to on paper.

They will scan web information, rather than reading every word, looking for what they need. Research shows that people only actually read 20 to 28% of a webpage. 

Website users will also read in an F-shape pattern. They scan across the top of the webpage, then down the left side and across to find what they need. 

This means your content should be written so people can easily scan it. Users should be able to understand the information without having to read every word in order. 

Front-loading

The way people read online means you should 'front-load' page titles, sub-headings and bullet points. This involves putting the words people are scanning for at the left of the title, heading or bullet.

Example: 'Roadworks in Suffolk', not 'Find out about roadworks in Suffolk'. 

Reading age

Applying a reading age to content tells us how hard it is to read. The higher the reading age, the more difficult it is to understand. 

There are many readability tests, such as the Flesch-Kincaid readability test

Many website users have a low reading age. This may be due to poor literacy skills, or because English is not their first language. 

You can make sure content easier to read and understand by writing simply and concisely. Simple writing makes content easier to understand for all users, not just those with a low reading age. 

For suffolk.gov.uk we aim for a reading age of 9 to 11 years old.

Test the readability of your content by using an online tool like Hemingway Editor

Plain English

You should write content simply, using plain English. This will make it easier for people to understand your information. 

Plain English means using short, simple and familiar everyday words. It avoids long words, technical language or jargon, which is vague and unspecific. 

For example, this sentence is full of jargon:

'We engage in horizon-scanning to anticipate future growth of demand for services.' 

You could instead write it in plain English:

'We plan for who might need to use our services in future.'

If you need to use legal, medical or other terms only known to specialists, explain what it means using plain English. 

Jargon to avoid

  • agenda (unless it's for a meeting)
  • deliver (pizza and letters are delivered, services are provided)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
  • foster (unless it's children)
  • horizon-scanning (more likely you’re planning for future needs)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • progress (as a verb – say what you’re actually doing)
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it's rugby, football or another sport)

Here is a longer list of words to avoid from GOV.UK

Everyday word alternatives

  • ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’
  • ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’
  • ‘working with’ instead of ‘collaborating with’
  • ‘begin’ instead of ‘initialise’
  • ‘talking to’ instead of ‘engaging with’
  • ‘changes’ instead of ‘modifications’
  • ‘many’ or ‘several’ instead of ‘multiple’
  • ‘put in place’ instead of ‘implement’

Here is an A to Z of alternative words

Tone of voice

Your content should have a neutral and consistent tone. It should not have a distinct individual style. 

Websites are not a conversational medium. They are different to how we might communicate with a user on webchat or social media.

Example: 'You can contact us', not 'give us a ring'. 

Using a neutral tone ensures content is consistent and appropriate across every page. 

Sentences and paragraphs

Shorter sentences are easier to read.

Here's an example of a sentence that's too long: 

If a sentence in your webpage is over 25 words in length, try editing it into two or more shorter sentences without any unnecessary words included. 

Instead you should write: 

'Sentences over 25 words are too long. Edit long sentences into two or more shorter sentences.'

Separate two sentences using a full stop, not a semi-colon. 

Concise paragraphs are also easier to read. Try to break up long paragraphs into a series of short paragraphs. 

Sometimes a paragraph can be a single sentence. 

Active voice

Write using the active voice, not the passive voice. This helps users scan content. 

Example: 'Report a pothole online' is active; 'Potholes can be reported online' is passive. 

You can find out if your writing is active or passive using Hemingway Editor

Address the user

Refer to the user as 'you' where possible. It helps make content clearer. 

Example: 'You can apply using the portal', not 'Applications can be made using the portal'. 

When to use 'we'

You can refer to Suffolk County Council or a specific service as 'we' if it's clear who 'we' are.

Users can arrive at a webpage from anywhere. So be clear in your title, summary and first paragraphs if 'we' are the whole council, a directorate or specific service.  

Contractions 

Use positive contractions such as 'you're' and 'we'll'. 

Do not use negative contractions such as 'can't' or 'don't'. These are harder to read, and users may misunderstand them. 

Using contractions does not make your content unprofessional or too casual. It's an everyday way of speaking that makes content feel more natural. 

Behaviour nudges

Nudges are psychological techniques used to shape a person's behaviour.

They've been used by companies for a long time. Now they're increasingly being used in the public sector, for example: to encourage better health choices. 

We use behavioural nudges to manage the user journey on suffolk.gov.uk. 

There are many reasons we might want use behavioural nudges. For example, to encourage people to contact us online. This saves money compared to phone calls.

Examples of nudges: 

  • '80% of people report a problem using our online tool' - emphasising online is the norm
  • 'The main way to pay is to use the online portal' - establishing digital is the default
  • 'If you apply by post it'll take longer to hear back from us' - here there's an incentive of quicker response
  • 'By contacting us online you help us spend more on front-line services' - this appeals to ego of having a positive affect on society

Nudges are not a 'dark art' if used for the right purposes. Our aims for nudging people are ethical and justified.

Research shows that nudges can work even if we're told we're being nudged. This means you can be transparent with users, and let them know why we are trying to shape their behaviour. 

Disability

Some tips for writing disability-related content:

  • Be consistent – try to avoid slipping into a patronising tone
  • Use appropriate terms (‘disabled people’ or ‘people with disabilities’, not ‘the disabled’)
  • Avoid medical labels – they reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as ‘patients’
  • Be mindful – many people don’t consider themselves ‘disabled’, but identify as having a ‘health condition or impairment’
  • Stay positive - avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ or ‘confined to’ which suggest pain and victim status; use ‘has [condition or impairment]’
  • Write normally – aim to create content for disabled people in the same way you would for everyone else

Here is more guidance about words to use and avoid when writing about disability

This section includes: page titles, summaries

Page titles

Title length

Your title should be 65 characters or less (including spaces).

Longer titles are harder to read, and Google cuts off titles after 65 characters. 

Make your titles clear and descriptive

Most people who use suffolk.gov.uk start with a search engine, such as Google. Your page title should:

  • be written using the language people would search for
  • make sense on its own 

You should not use the terms most people use if there is a misconception. For example, it's the Register Office, not Registry Office. 

If you must use official terms in a page title, use plain language in your page summary.

Example: the 'Household Waste Recycling Centre' page should mention 'tip' or 'dump' in the summary. These are the keywords people may use when searching. 

Using ‘ing’ in titles

Use the active verb (for example ‘Apply’) if you use the page to do the thing.

Example of good form title: Apply for a school place.

Use the gerund (‘Applying’) if the page is about doing the thing, but you do it elsewhere.

Example of good guidance title: Applying for a school place.

Formatting your title

You should put the format type at the end of a page title, not the beginning. This follows our guidance about 'front-loading' titles and sub-headings. 

Examples:

  • 'New highways works consultation', not 'Consultation about the new Highways works'
  • 'Trading Standards guidance' not 'Guidance about Trading Standards'

Summaries

Summary length 

Keep all summaries to 160 characters (including spaces). Google usually only shows the first 160 characters in search results. 

Describe the page content

The page summary is one of the things people see in search engine results (along with the page title and URL). So your page summary needs to clearly explain what the user will find on the page, and how it could help them. 

Example: the 'Blue badge scheme' page the summary could be:

'How to apply for a Blue Badge, the eligibility criteria, how to renew or replace your badge, and what to do if you are a new applicant.'

Include keywords in your page summary that people might search for but that you haven't included in your title. 

Do not repeat the title in your summary. Use the summary to expand on the title. 

Formatting your summary 

Keep summaries active and include a verb.

Examples: 

  • You can apply...
  • How to pay...
  • When reporting...

Summaries should end with a full stop. This can help people who use assistive technology like screen readers.

Avoid redundant introductory words

These do not tend to give the user any more information than what they would already assume.

Examples:

  • Information about...
  • A consultation on...
  • This form will allow you to...
  • Please complete...

Remove as much as you can without losing critical information.

This section includes: page length, inverted pyramid, sub-headings, bold text, bullet points, number lists, tables, shoutboxes, buttons, accordions and tabs

Page length

There is no limit to page length on suffolk.gov.uk. 

However, always make sure a content page is only as long as it needs to be. 

You can use the formatting guidance in this section to ensure your content is clear, concise, and easy to scan.

Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a practice where you put the most important information at the top of the webpage. 

The pyramid shape reflects that your writing should go from the broadest facts down to the smallest details. 

For example on an 'Apply for a school place' page, information about:

  • how, when and where to apply should be at the top
  • how we process applications should go at the bottom

Find out more on the Nielsen Norman Group website: Inverted Pyramid: Writing for Comprehension

Headings

Use sub-headings to divide up content into sections of related information. 

These headings help people and search engines scan a webpage and understand what the page is about. People using screen readers use sub-headings to navigate a page to find the information they need. 

Sub-headings must be well structured, or they will confuse users and search engines. 

You should used headings like this: 

  • Heading 1 is the page title. There should never be more than one Heading 1 on a webpage. 
  • Heading 2 is used to divide the webpage into sections.
  • Heading 3 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 2.
  • Heading 4 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 3.

Always make Heading 2 the first sub-heading used after the page title. 

If a page is only divided using Heading 3 or Heading 4 search engines and screen readers will view this as the page 'missing' a Heading 2. 

Do not use Heading 5, 6 and so on. Too many heading types are confusing. 

Do not link any part of sub-headings. 

Bold text 

You can use bold to help users scan for important information, such as dates or costs.

Example: 'The deadline for applications is Friday 30 October'.

It can also be used for emphasis.

Example: 'Do not report this online if it's an emergency'.

Use bold sparingly to avoid it becoming meaningless and distracting. Some pages do not need any bold text. 

Never highlight a whole sentence, paragraph or link in bold. 

Bullet points

Use bullet points to make lists easier to scan. Bullets are appropriate when the order of list items does not matter.

When using bullets:

  • write a lead-in line ending in a colon, for example ‘When using bullets:’
  • use lowercase at the start of each bullet if continuing the sentence
  • don’t use ‘or’, ‘and’ or a semi-colon after each bullet
  • don’t add a full stop after the last bullet point
  • limit yourself to 5-10 items per bullet list

Good example

On suffolk.gov.uk you can: 

  • report
  • apply 
  • pay

Bad example

On suffolk.gov.uk: 

  • you can report
  • you can apply
  • you can pay

Number lists

Use numbered lists to present ordered information.

For example, step-by-step instructions to complete a task:

  1. This is step 1
  2. Here's step 2
  3. And now step 3

Tables

Use tables to display information such and timetables, opening hours or budget figures. Do not use tables to control the layout of your page.

Example of a well formatted table: 

Opening hours

Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm
Saturday 10am to 4.30pm
Sunday Closed

Shoutboxes

Shoutboxes look like this. You can use them to highlight important information. 

Avoid overusing shoutboxes, as this makes them less noticeable. 

Buttons

Use buttons to highlight the most important link or download on the page.

This is known as a call to action. It's the main thing the user needs to do when visiting the page. 

For example, on the 'Pay an invoice' page, the link to the external payment form should be a button.

Example button 

Proceed to payment

The link text on a button should describe what happens when you click the button.

For example: On the 'Pay an invoice' page the button text should be 'Proceed to payment'. It should not say 'Make a payment' or 'Pay now' as the user can't complete their payment by clicking the button. 

Do not use more than one or two buttons on a single webpage. 

Accordions

Accordions are webpage features that expand to show more content. On this guide, "Formatting your content" is an accordion. 

Use accordions for long pages where the user may only need to look at one section of information. For example, FAQ pages. 

Treat the accordion title as a Heading 2. 

Tabs

You can use tabs to segment your page content. 

On suffolk.gov.uk, the first tab is always 'open' and displays its content. 

Use tabs for similar reasons to accordions, but where your page sections are limited. (You can only add up to 5 tabs on a suffolk.gov.uk webpage.)

Treat the tab title as a Heading 2. 

This section includes: links, documents, images, videos and other media

Links

You can add hyperlinks (links) to help people find further information on suffolk.gov.uk or external websites.

Only add links that are useful to your page. Too many links can overwhelm people, rather then help.

Internal links should open in the same browser tab

External links should open in a new tab

Signposting

When signposting make it clear:

  • what will happen when the user clicks the link
  • where the link will take the user
  • why the user should click on the link

Example: 'You can learn more about SEN funding on suffolksendiass.co.uk'.

Add external links within the main page content, not a separate 'external links' area of the page. 

How to format links

Make your link text active, concise and include a verb if possible.

Do not use a full URL web address as the link text.

Good example: Find bus timetables on suffolkonboard.com

Bad example: Bus timetable are available on Suffolk Onboard: https://www.suffolkonboard.com/buses/timetables/

Add descriptive alternative text (alt text) to your link. This is read by screen readers to tell people what the link is about. 

Links should make sense in isolation, in case people or screen readers are scanning the page looking for them. Do not use generic link text such as 'click here'. 

Do not link sub-headings.

Documents

How to publish information

Publish information as webpage content (HTML) rather than files (such as PDFs) wherever possible. 

This is because PDFs: 

  • do not change size to fit a web browser
  • are not designed for reading on screens
  • don't allow us to track how people use them offline
  • can be hard for some people to access
  • are harder to keep up to date

More information: Why GOV.UK content should be published in HTML and not PDF

The maximum file size for suffolk.gov.uk is 5MB. You should aim for your file to be less than 1MB if possible. There are many free online tools that can shrink your file size. 

Document file names

Give all files you upload a meaningful file name. Do not use vague file names, for example, v62.pdf or application-form.pdf.

A good file name will make sense to the user if they find it in their download folder. It also makes it easier to analyse data in Google Analytics.

The file name should:

  • be written entirely in lowercase
  • use hyphens or underscores instead of spaces
  • make sense out of context, for example, v62-application-vehicle-registration-certificate.pdf

The file name should not include:

  • a version number, ‘draft’, ‘clean’ or ‘final’, unless those words are part of the document title
  • a date, unless the date is part of the document title, for example, a business plan for 2016 to 2017

Formatting your document link

The format for document links should make sense in isolation. It should also include a verb if possible (making the link an action). 

Include the file type and size in brackets after the document link. 

Good example: Download the example document (Word, 12KB)

Bad example: You can download the document here

Be sure to read the guidelines section on accessibility to make sure your document can be used by anyone.

Images

When to use images

You should use images when they serve a purpose, not for decoration. 

Good example: An image showing pothole depth can help explain what a dangerous pothole looks like

Bad example: An image of children in a classroom on a school term dates page is decorative, as it does not help explain anything

Uploading and adding to a page

Images uploaded to suffolk.gov.uk should be:

  • a JPG or PNG file format
  • maximum 1200px wide (for landscape photos)
  • less than 1MB file size

You should usually display images on a page in these dimensions: 

  • 1200px wide for a full-width landing page image
  • 850px wide for a typical content page feature image (top of the page)
  • 400px wide with text wrapping around if positioned in the body of the page

Make your image accessible and searchable

Add clear and descriptive alternative text (alt text) to your image. This tells people with screen readers what the image shows. This will also help people find your page through search engine image results. 

Do not publish images containing text. This makes the information inaccessible to screen readers and search engines. 

If you publish graphs as image files, make sure the details are also available in the editable page content.

Videos

You can embed YouTube videos on suffolk.gov.uk. 

Make sure any page with videos still has enough content around it (text, headings). This helps search engines and screen readers read the page and understand what it's about. 

Embedding videos is simple and quick. You have the option to resize the video to work best in your page layout and for mobile devices. 

Ask the Digital Content Team for support if you need help adding a video to your page. 

Other media 

We sometimes embed other media formats on suffolk.gov.uk. For example: Google maps or digital magazines using publishing tools such as PageTiger or Issuu. 

Please ask the Digital Content Team about adding non-standard media to a page. 

This section includes: abbreviations, acronyms, addresses, capitalisation, dates and times, hyphens, italics, money and fees, numbers and ages, quotations, semi-colons, singular and plural, symbols, units of measurement, web terms

Abbreviations

Avoid abbreviating words and phrases. They are harder to read, and may sound confusing when using a screen reader.

For example: write 'for example' in full rather than 'e.g.'

Acronyms

When first mentioning an acronym on any page, write in full with the acronym in brackets.

For example: start by writing ‘Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)'. You could then refer to 'MASH' for the rest of the page.

Addresses

When writing addresses use the format:

Suffolk County Council,
Endeavour House,
8 Russell Road,
Ipswich,
Suffolk,
IP1 2BX

Capitalisation

Capital letters make sentences 13 to 18% harder to read.

Begin page titles with a capital letter and continue in lowercase.

Example: 'Apply for a school place' not 'Apply For a School Place'. 

Never write in all capitals, as online this looks like we’re shouting. The exception to this is when using acronyms or initialisms, for example: ACS, DVLA or GOV.UK.

Dates and times

Use the date format ‘Thursday 16 October 2018’ 

Do not use 24-hour clock - this requires extra effort for the user to 'convert' the time. Write '5pm' not '17:00'.

Write date and time ranges using the format 'Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm' not 'Mon-Fri, 9am - 5pm'

Be specific with dates if you can.

Example: 'Applications open on Monday 12 September' not 'Applications open next Monday'.

Hyphens

Examples of words on suffolk.gov.uk that should include hyphens:

  • by-election
  • co-ordinate
  • in-house
  • on-site

Words that shouldn't have hyphens:

  • email
  • ebooks
  • ecommerce
  • online

Italics

Do not use italics on suffolk.gov.uk. 

Italics are harder to read online, and can add tone to information which we want to avoid. 

Money and fees

Write money in the format: £2.50; £250; £2,500, £25,000, £250,000; £2.5 million; £2.5 billion.

Numbers and ages 

The conventional way to format numbers is to spell numbers up to ten, then use digits for larger numbers. For example, 'nine', ten', '11', '12'. 

On suffolk.gov.uk, always use digits unless you're starting a sentence with a number.

Example, you would write 'There are 3 ways to apply', but 'Three ways you can apply'. This makes it easier for people to scan for numerical information.

The format for large numbers is: 100; 1,000; 10,000; 100,000; 1 million; 1 billion. 

Write decades using the format ‘1980s’, not ‘1980’s’, ‘80s’ or ‘eighties'.

When writing ages, use the formats 'The 21-year-old woman' and 'The woman is 21 years old'. 

Quotations

Write quotations like this:

  • The councillor said: “This is an example quote.”
  • The councillor said he was “very happy” with his quote.
  • The councillor said he’d give one more quote that was “great”.

When dividing long quotations into shorter paragraphs, use this format:

The fire officer said: “I like giving example quotes too.

“It’s useful to know how to write quotations so I can teach others.

“I especially like quotes that continue onto three or more lines.”

Semi-colons

Do not use semi-colons to separate two sentences. Use a full stop instead.

Semi-colons are harder to read and may not be understood by users. 

Singular and plural

Write collective nouns as singular entities. This includes companies, governments and other organisations or groups. 

Example: ‘Suffolk County Council is’ not ‘Suffolk County Council are’.

Symbols 

Do not use ampersands (&). For example, write 'Roads and transport' not 'Roads & transport'.

Do not add exclamations (!). If you need to highlight an important message us bold text for the relevant part of the sentence. 

You can use the symbols for percentage ('%') and the pound sign ('£').

Units of measurement

Use metric units on suffolk.gov.uk.

If you need to use imperial units, provide a conversion to metric units. For example, 'The road is 10 miles (16km) long.'

Write temperatures in the format 'Today's temperature is 23C'. 

Web terms

When linking to a website use the format 'suffolkjobsdirect.org'. Do no include 'http://www.' prefix characters or any unnecessary slashes. 

Write: 

  • website not web site
  • webpage not web page
  • webchat not web chat

This section includes: standards, responsibilities, text, images, video, audio, PDFs and other documents, maps

Content on suffolk.gov.uk should comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. This is good practice, and will be a legal requirement from 23 September 2020

You can read the accessibility statement for suffolk.gov.uk which explains our level of compliance with WCAG and UK web accessibility regulations. 

As a website editor the content that you’re responsible for making accessible includes:

  • text content
  • images, video and audio content
  • PDFs and other document types you publish
  • maps (such as Google maps embedded in a page)

As website admins and coordinators the Digital Content Team is responsible for:

  • interactive tools and transactions (such as application forms or decision trees)
  • mobile responsiveness (how usable the website is on a smartphone or tablet device)
  • navigation and search functionality
  • colour contrast and web design overall 
  • pop-ups and other dynamic content (such as feedback forms) 
  • HTML checks 

Text content

Page titles

Your page should be titled properly.

If it's not, users won’t understand what it's for and will struggle to find what they need using search.

Make sure your page title is descriptive, meaningful and suggests in plain English what the page is about.

For example, 'Apply for a school place' is more helpful than simply 'School applications'.

Check that none of your titles are duplicated: if two pages have the same title, how is the user supposed to know which one to use?

Headings

It’s important that any headings you’re using are styled and structured properly. This is because some users with visual impairments use tools called ‘screen readers’ that read out page content to them.

Screen reader users often jump through the list of headings in a document so they can skip to the content they’re looking for.

If you’re styling headings just using bold, or by using bigger font, then screen readers won’t recognise them as headings and users won’t be able to skip to the content they need.

Structure your sub-headings in this way: 

  • Heading 2 is used to divide the page into sections
  • Heading 3 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 2
  • Heading 4 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 3

Always make Heading 2 the first sub-heading used after the page title.

If a page is only divided using Heading 3 or Heading 4 screen readers will view this as the page 'missing' a Heading 2.

Links

The link text you’re using should clearly explain where any links will take the user.

This is important because screen reader users often scan through lists of links in isolation. This means they don’t have the surrounding context to help them understand what the link is for.

If the link text still makes sense in isolation and clearly explains where the link goes, it’s likely the text you’re using is accessible.

If you’re using link text like ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ then you’re probably not meeting this requirement, as link text like that doesn’t describe where the link will go or what it’s for.

You can find guidance on writing good link text if you’re not sure.

Instructions

You need to make sure you’re not conveying instructions in a way that relies on a user’s ability to see the page.

For example, only sighted users will understand instructions like:

  • ‘click the round button’
  • ‘click the big button below’
  • ‘click the red button’

Users who can’t see the page won’t know what you’re referring to, because instructions like that rely on visual descriptions.

Characters and other conventions

Using some characters make information less clear when someone is using a screen reader.

You should write 'Roads and transport' not 'Roads & transport'.

However you could use the pound sign (£) when writing a cost amount. 

Format dates as '9 July to 11 July' not '9 July - 11 July'. 

Write times as '2pm' rather than the 24-hour clock '14:00'. 

Images, video and audio content

Image description

Images should have appropriate alternative text (also known as 'alt text'). This explains what the image conveys.

Alt text can be added while using the website content management system (CMS) to edit a page. 

Make sure any non-decorative images (including charts or diagrams) have an accompanying text description. That way, users can still access the relevant information even if they can’t see the image.

You don’t need to add alt text to decorative images.

Images containing text

Your images should not contain text (unless the image is decorative and not intended to communicate information).

This is because screen readers won’t be able to read the text within the image. The information should be published as normal page text instead.

This doesn’t include logos and brand names - it’s okay for those to contain text.

Audio content description

Your videos or audio content should be clearly described so that users who can’t hear them can still access the information.

This means checking that videos have captions explaining any sound effects and dialogue. 

You should also include transcripts for any audio content you publish.

Audio descriptions for video and audio content

Your video may cover something that’s not described in the audio track – the contents of a chart or graph, for example.

If you were only following the audio, you’d miss this information. To make sure users can access the information they need, you’d need to provide an extra audio description to describe anything not covered in the main audio track.

PDFs and other documents

You can read our guide to creating accessible documents (PDF, 144KB) for more detail about the advice below. It's also an example of an accessible document.

Document titles

A document title is metadata. It will display at the top of the document’s application or in the tab of a web browser.

If someone’s using a screen reader, the title will be the first thing the screen reader recognises.

A good clear and descriptive title will help people understand what the document is about. For example, “Guide to creating accessible documents” is a good title for a document, but a file name convention such as “2019-09-24-doc-accessibility-v1.1” would not.

It's best to make the file name and document title consistent.

You can set the title metadata for your Office document by following either of these steps:

  • Within the document select File > Info > Properties > Advanced Properties > Summary > Title
  • Right-click on the file (without opening it) and select Properties > Details > Title

Find out more about how to view or change the metadata for an Office file.

Headings

Your document should be broken up into sections - and that those sections all have descriptive headings. This will allow people using screen readers to scan the document and jump to the section that’s relevant to them.

You’ll also need to check that the headings are tagged properly - for instance, they’ve been created using the styles gallery in Microsoft Word or something similar. That way, a screen reader will recognise them as headings and will let users scan through them to find the content they need.

If the headings are just styled using bold, the screen reader won’t know they’re headings and the document isn’t accessible.

Instructions

You need to make sure you’re not conveying instructions in a way that relies on a user’s ability to see the document.

For example, only sighted users will understand instructions like:

  • ‘click the round button’
  • ‘click the big button below’
  • ‘click the red button’

Users who can’t see the page won’t know what you’re referring to, because you need to be able to see the page to identify a button as ‘big’, ‘red’ or ‘round’.

Link text

Any link text you’re using should clearly explain where the link will take the user.

This is important because screen reader users often scan through lists of links in isolation. This means they don’t have the surrounding context to help them understand what the link is for.

If the links still make sense even in isolation and clearly explain where the links go, it’s likely the text you’re using is accessible.

If you’re using link text like ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ then you’re probably not meeting this requirement, as link text like that doesn’t describe where the link will go or what it’s for.

You can find guidance on writing good link text if you’re not sure.

Images, tables and charts

You will need to convey any non-text content you have in your document for users who cannot view images, tables and charts. 

Add an alternative text description to your images. If you're unsure on how to do this, check the guidance on writing alternative text in an Office file.

Do not add an image of a table or chart.

Maps

It’s very hard to make a map itself accessible to people who have visual impairments using some sorts of assistive technology.

However you should provide an alternative for users who aren’t able to use the map. For example, you’re presented not only with a map you could use to navigate, but also with a text address any user could access.

Check any maps on your webpages to see whether you’re providing alternative routes for users who can’t use the map.

This guidance is based on the GOV.UK guide Doing a basic accessibility check if you can’t do a detailed one

This section includes: why search is important, how search engines works, how to optimise your web content

Why search is important

Most people start their search for information online using a search engine.

Half of visits to suffolk.gov.uk start with someone using a search engine, such as Google. 

This means it's important that users can find your pages using search engines. 

How search engines work

Search engines aim to present the most relevant results for any search term. 

They do this by first building up an index of webpages on the internet. 

They then use a complex algorithm to rank pages for different search terms.

It's thought there are over 200 factors influencing the Google search algorithm.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the ranking of your webpage on search results. 

SEO is a complicated and specialist practice. However, as a content editor you can influence how high your page appears for relevant search terms.

How to optimise your web content

Publish on an authoritative domain

Authoritative domains such as gov.uk or nhs.uk are more trusted by search engines. This means pages on those websites rank higher on search results pages. 

All pages on suffolk.gov.uk are considered authoritative and trustworthy. If you have the choice between publishing content on this website or a non-gov.uk domain, opt for suffolk.gov.uk; it will mean your page is more likely to rank highly with search engines. 

Meet the user need

Make sure your content is relevant and answers the questions people will have. 

If people visit your page and immediately return to their search results Google may think your page is not relevant. 

Include keywords people use to search

Write your page title, summary and content using the words and phrases people would use when searching. 

Do not try to 'trick' Google by repeating keywords unnaturally. This may result in a penalty, where Google stops your page from appearing on results pages. 

Make sure your page is well written and formatted

Write clear, concise and descriptive page titles, summaries, sub-headings and content. This helps both search engines and users understand what the page is about. 

Ensure your sub-headings are in a logical order. 

Do not put information in images

Search engines cannot read information in images, for example: text overlaid onto photos. 

If a lot of your page information is contained within images, search engines will think the page doesn't have much content. 

Add alternative text to photos

When you add photos to a page make sure you add alternative text (alt text). This helps the image (and page) show up in Google Image search. 

Avoid sparse pages or duplicate content

Google may penalise your website if it contains a lot of sparse pages or duplicate content. This means your website would not rank highly on search results pages. 

This would only apply to a trend found widely across a website, not just an individual page. 

Complete the page metadata

You can add metadata to your page when editing it in the Content Management System (CMS). 

This metadata is only read by search engines, and provides more information on what the page is about

Fix any usability issues

Make sure your page doesn't have issues that would cause a bad user experience, for example: broken links. 

Acquire good links from other websites

Search engines look at links to a page from other websites as 'votes' that your page is relevant and useful. 

Getting links from trustworthy and authoritative websites will help your page rank higher in search results. For example, if you publish a page related to healthcare for young people, links from NHS, university and other relevant websites will be beneficial. 

Be aware that it can take days or weeks for search engines to fully take account of all the links to your page and adjust its search ranking. 

Avoid bad links from other websites

If a lot of spam or low quality websites are linking to your page, search engines may penalise your page or website. 

There are lots of online tools to help monitor inbound links to a website. You can ask the Digital Content Team for more details. 

This section includes: editing, proofreading, misspellings, homophones, apostrophes, other common mistakes 

Editing and proofreading tips

Editing

When editing your content you should:

  • Delete redundant words
  • Split sentences over 25 words into two or more shorter sentences
  • Keep paragraphs concise (even a single sentence)
  • Check for readability using a tool like Hemingway 
  • Check content does not include any sensitive data

Proofreading

To spot mistakes in your writing you can: 

  • spellcheck, but do not rely on it (it will not tell you if you’ve used a word in the wrong context)
  • change the font to make it unfamiliar
  • print it out so you're reading it in a different context
  • read it aloud
  • read it backwards
  • ask someone else to read it 

Mistakes to avoid

Below are some common mistakes made by content editors. 

Misspellings

Write using British English, not American English.

Examples:

  • ‘recognise’ not ‘recognize’
  • ‘focused’ not ‘focussed’
  • ‘holiday’ not ‘vacation’
  • ‘pavements’ and not ‘sidewalk’
  • ‘lift’ not ‘elevator’

Make sure your spellcheck is set to British English. Refer to the Oxford English Dictionary if you’re ever unsure.

Homophones

These are words that are pronounced and spelled similarly, but have different meanings.

Make sure you’re using the correct versions of the following:

  • affect/effect
  • complement/compliment
  • formerly/formally
  • licence/license
  • practice/practise
  • principal/principle

Tautologies

This is when you use additional words that are unnecessary.

Examples of tautologies are:

  • new innovation 
  • mutual co-operation
  • past experience
  • honest truth

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession or omission of words. 

Below are correct uses of apostrophes: 

  • This is Thomas' room
  • This is Thomas's room
  • Work will start in two weeks' time
  • Today's the day
  • You'll be contacted soon

Do not use an apostrophe when writing the plural of something, for example: there are 20 worker's. 

Other common mistakes

It’s easy to use the wrong version of the words below. Ensure you’re using the correct instance of the following.

  • a/an
  • farther/further
  • fewer/less
  • it’s/its
  • that/which
  • they’re/their
  • who’s/whose
  • your/you’re

This section includes: understanding how people use your content, monitoring your content for issues, keeping your content and editing skills up to date

The Digital Content Team can support you to manage your content. Please email digitalcontentteam@suffolk.gov.uk to ask about anything mentioned below. 

Understand how people use your content

It's easy to see how people use your page with tools such as Google Analytics. 

You should know how many people are visiting your page, and what they do when they arrive. 

If you don't know how your page is being used, you do not know if it's meeting user needs. 

Monitor your content for issues

You can use web quality assurance software such as Siteimprove to monitor your web content for issues. 

The main issues that affect websites are: 

  • broken links
  • misspellings
  • poor readability
  • accessibility issues
  • SEO issues

Issues can prevent people from being able to access your service.

The Digital Content Team are responsible for monitoring suffolk.gov.uk for issues, but you can get involved to manage issues for your area of information. 

Keep your content up to date

You are responsible for ensuring your online information is accurate as a content editor.

You should review your pages to edit any information or documents that are out of date. 

Keep your editing skills up to date

You should attend web editing training sessions to ensure you are following good practices.

Last updated

These guidelines were last updated on 11 October 2019.