Content guidelines

A style guide for the Suffolk County Council website. Find out how to write content that's simple, clear and easy to understand.

You can help us improve these guidelines. Email your feedback to digitalcontentteam@suffolk.gov.uk

How to use this guide

Our content guidelines are designed for anyone writing or editing information on suffolk.gov.uk. You can use the links below to quickly find guidance on specific topics. 

1. Starting with user needs 5. Formatting content 9. Short guide 
2. Tone of voice 6. Our house style 10. Guidelines presentation
3. Plain English 7. Editing and proofreading 11. Background to the guidelines
4. Types of content 8. Spelling, grammar and punctuation 12. Useful tools and resources


Why use content guidelines? 

In addition to meeting user needs, following these guidelines will help you:

  • save time by finding quick tips on formatting, style and accuracy
  • avoid mistakes and reduce the need to edit or rewrite content
  • easily train new content authors and refresh your own writing skills
  • increase trust in the council by providing accessible and correct content
  • raise confidence that local government can provide effective digital services

1. Starting with user needs 

More than 100,000 users visit suffolk.gov.uk each month. Many people depend on the website to access council services and information. The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that content on suffolk.gov.uk meets user needs. 

The guidelines are based on six principles:

‘Content should be easy to find, accessible, useful, concise, well-presented and use the right tone of voice'

User needs are met by content that quickly and effectively:

  • answers a question
  • solves a problem
  • directs users to relevant information

Plan your content

You can improve your content by planning what you want to say, and how to say it.

By considering the following questions before you start writing, you’ll create more focused, purposeful and effective content.

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What is their user need?
  • What is the purpose of your content?
  • What is the most important information?
  • Has the user need already been met elsewhere?

Write for specific users

Writing for specific users means anticipating the questions and problems that these readers have, not writing in a particular style for them.

Everyone in Suffolk may need to use suffolk.gov.uk at some point, but typical users include:

  • business owners
  • carers
  • childcare professionals
  • children and young people
  • councillors and elected representatives
  • elderly or vulnerable adults
  • job seekers
  • media and journalists
  • parents
  • students
  • teachers/governors

Have a clear purpose

To answer a user’s question or solve their problem, you may need to create content with a specific purpose.

The purpose of your web content could be to:

  • inform – by providing accurate, useful information about a council service
  • educate – by teaching the user about a new council-related subject
  • persuade – by motivating the user to take action on a specific topic
  • guide – by presenting step-by-step instructions for completing a task
  • convert – by enabling a user to complete an online transaction
  • signpost – by directing users to a web page with relevant information
  • comply – by providing content that satisfies statutory obligations

It’s possible for a web page to have several purposes. However, try not to do too much on a single page – it may confuse and frustrate the user.

Optimise for search

Most users find content on suffolk.gov.uk by using search engines such as Google and Bing.

You can influence your content appearing higher in search results for relevant queries, making information easier for users to find.

This practice is known as search engine optimisation (SEO).

To optimise your content for search engines, try to:

  • think about what ‘search terms’ or ‘keywords’ a user might enter when looking for web content on the topic you’re writing about
  • use tools such as Google Trends to compare search term interest – this may help you decide which keywords to use, e.g. ‘job vacancies’ vs. ‘career opportunities’
  • include your keywords in your title, entry summary and body content
  • include keywords in meta data, tags, IPSV, LGSL to enhance search
  • avoid overusing keywords – this could be penalised by search engines
  • link to relevant internal pages within your content
  • link to reputable external pages within your content, e.g. BBC, GOV.UK
  • use appropriate meta tags for your content topic
  • add descriptive alternative text to any images you embed
  • encourage relevant external websites to link to your content page
  • write naturally – we are talking to users, not search engines

Avoid duplicate content

It may not always be necessary to create a new web page on suffolk.gov.uk. Check to see if content already exists that meets user needs – it might be better to improve an existing page than create a new one.

Write or wrong? If the user need has already been met through content on another Suffolk County Council website, consider signposting instead of publishing a similar page on suffolk.gov.uk. Providing two similar web pages in search results can be confusing for users.

Try to avoid writing a series of pages with near-identical content. This can be penalised by search engines, meaning users may not be able to find your content through sites like Google and Bing.

Return to the start of the content guidelines

2. Tone of voice 

You can communicate effectively with users by using a consistent tone of voice. This also ensures we don’t confuse, alienate or offend users.

Suffolk County Council’s tone of voice is:

  • active – address the user, and use personal pronouns, e.g. ‘we will send you a letter’ rather than ‘a letter will be sent by the council’
  • direct – get to the point, and be concise, e.g. ‘this page is about potholes’, rather than ‘residents of Suffolk can find information about potholes on this page’
  • conversational – write naturally using contractions, e.g. ‘check you’re eligible’, rather than ‘check if you are eligible’
  • authoritative – don’t become too friendly or casual, e.g. ‘you can call us’, rather than ‘give us a ring’
  • specific – use precise language, e.g. ‘the election is on Thursday 7 May’, rather than ‘the election is in spring next year’
  • helpful – asking questions can feel more caring and appropriate, e.g. ‘need another way to pay?’ rather than ‘there are other ways to pay’
  • encouraging – use verbs that prompt users to take action, rather than front-loading page titles, e.g. ‘apply for a Blue Badge’ rather than ‘Blue Badge applications’
  • welcoming – use reassuring language about online content and transactions, e.g. ‘you can access services faster, easier and safely online’
  • emotion-neutral – avoid personal opinions, feelings or your individual style of writing, but ensure content always seems written by a human

Return to the start of the content guidelines

3. Plain English

Users need to understand information on suffolk.gov.uk quickly and effectively.

That’s why we write using plain English.

Plain English uses familiar everyday words. It avoids the use of jargon and technical language. This style of writing is preferred by both high and low literacy users. It allows people to read and comprehend information easily.

Here is an example of information written in ‘council speak’:

"The council takes a lead in commissioning and decommissioning service provision by defining the required service provision and providing the required specialist input to procurement. This involves dialogue with service regulators, portfolio holders and leading on service-specific partnerships, related projects and programmes. This process also incorporates engagement in service-specific horizon-scanning to anticipate service developments."

Here is the information rewritten in plain English:

"We decide which services to provide and maintain in Suffolk by studying your needs, and using our own knowledge and experience. We work with the people running and regulating these services, as well as other important partnerships, projects, and programmes. We also think long-term, and plan for Suffolk’s future needs."

You can find further details of how to use plain English below.

Address the user

When writing about the council and its users, write ‘we’ and ‘you’ wherever possible. Avoid formal terms such as ‘the council’ or ‘customers’.

This can feel more human and personal to users. It’s more effective in persuading people to take action.

Use everyday words

Use simple, short and familiar terms as much as possible.

Avoid using long formal terms, or words that wouldn’t be understood by people with a low reading age, e.g. 'we will repair the street light' is clearer than 'we will take remedial action regarding the street light'. 

More examples of using everyday terms are:

  • ‘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’

Read this A-Z of alternative words guide for further suggestions.

Don’t use jargon

Jargon confuses users. It lacks clarity or precision, resulting in meaningless and misleading content.

Replace jargon by saying what you mean or what you’re doing in simple language.

Examples of 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)

Simplify legal and technical language

You can use plain English to simplify complex information. This applies to legal and technical language.

Write in plain English to summarise legalese or technical terms that are published as documents on suffolk.gov.uk.

If you need to use a legal term when writing web content, explain what it means in plain English, e.g. ‘an affidavit is a written statement of evidence taken on oath’.

Use inclusive disability language

Use language that respects disabled people as active individuals with self-determination.

Below are some tips for writing disability-related content.

  • Be consistent – try to avoid slipping into a patronising tone
  • Use appropriate terms (e.g. ‘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

Return to the start of the content guidelines

4. Types of content

‘Content’ doesn’t just mean words.

You can use different content forms to present information that effectively meets user needs. Use the content form that best conveys the information.

Content forms you could consider for a web page on suffolk.gov.uk include:

  • audio
  • documents
  • diagrams
  • forms
  • infographics
  • interactive content (e.g. calculators or quizzes)
  • maps
  • photos
  • presentations
  • video

There are many ways of presenting content. However, you’ll need to consider 4 important factors when deciding if your preferred form is viable. Before you start, consider:

  • accessibility – will everyone understand it?
  • time – how long will it take to produce?
  • budget – what will it cost to put in place?
  • resources – what capability is required?

Think about whether your content justifies the investment of time, money and resources when planning your content.

Return to the start of the content guidelines

5. Formatting content

Your content needs to be organised effectively for web-reading behaviour.

Lay out your content so it’s easy to scan. This will help users find the most important information and remember it.

How users read: Most people scan web pages by browsing in an F-shaped pattern – and typically read less than 30% of the page.

Effective formatting techniques include:

  • clear titles
  • descriptive summaries
  • concise sentences and paragraphs
  • images and videos
  • headings
  • bullet points
  • numbered lists
  • bold text
  • tables
  • links (i.e. 'signposting')

These are explained in more detail in the following section.

Titles

Be accurate and consistent when writing titles of web pages, organisations and individuals.

When writing titles:

  • write ‘Suffolk County Council’ when using our full title
  • use uppercase for service titles, e.g. ‘Suffolk Trading Standards’
  • begin page titles in uppercase and continue in lowercase, e.g. ‘Schools and education’, not ‘Schools and Education’
  • don’t use ampersands – e.g. ‘Jobs and careers’, not ‘Jobs & careers’
  • use the format ‘Councillor [first name] [second name], Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for [Name of Service]’.
  • don’t include a full stop for individual titles, e.g. write ‘Dr Samuels’ not ‘Dr. Samuels’
  • government’, ‘county council’ and ‘councillor’ are lower case when not using the above conventions

Summaries

Write an entry summary for every page. This provides the user with an overview of the content.

Entry summaries should:

  • contain a maximum of 160 characters
  • summarise the page content
  • end with a full stop

The entry summary is important as it appears in search results as the text under titles and URLs that describes the page.

Paragraphs and sentences

Write using clear, direct and concise sentences, e.g. 'you can do this' rather than 'you may be able to do this'.

Complement this approach with short, compact paragraphs.

This style makes it easier for users to scan and understand web content.

To create concise web content, you should:

  • communicate one clear point per paragraph
  • divide long paragraphs into several shorter ones
  • split sentences that exceed 25 words into two
  • use single sentence paragraphs if appropriate

Images and videos

Only include images or videos on a page if they add value to a page for the user. By visualising information, we can often explain it quicker and easier than merely providing text to read.

When you add photos or videos to a web page:

  • source appropriate images – you can find photos on Suffolk County Council’s Flickr account.
  • check the copyright – make sure we can publish any image or video media 
  • use acceptable resolution images – add photos at least 800px wide
  • be sure to resize – images and videos should fit our page width and layout
  • always add alternative (alt) text to clearly explain what an image shows – this is important for visually impaired users

You can find more photo sites to sources images.

Headings

Use headings to divide content into shorter sections. This breaks up a web page and makes it easier for users to comprehend information.

We use 4 types of web page headings:

  • Heading 1 is for page titles only (e.g. 'Content guidelines')
  • Heading 2 is used to divide a page of content into shorter sections (e.g. 'How to format content')
  • Heading 3 is used to separate a section into sub-sections (e.g. 'Headings')
  • Heading 4 is used to divide sub-sections (use when required)

Bullets points

Use bullet points, or 'bullets’, to make your content easier to scan and understand. Bullets are appropriate to use where the order of items does not matter.

When using bullets:

write a lead-in line, e.g. ‘When using bullets you should:’

  • use lowercase at the start of each bullet if continuing the sentence
  • don’t use ‘or’ or ‘and’ after each bullet
  • avoid making a whole bullet line a link
  • don’t add a full stop after the last bullet point
  • limit yourself to 5-10 items per bullet list

Numbered lists

Use numbered lists to present information in order, or to provide steps to complete a task.

Numbered lists allow users to:

  • see at a glance how many steps there are
  • check off steps (mentally, even if they can’t write on-screen)
  • read one step, do it, and find the next step easily when they return to the list
  • do the steps in the correct order
  • do all the steps (without inadvertently missing one)

Bold text

Using bold can be an effective way to highlight information in a passage of text. It should be used:

  • mainly to help users scan for important details, e.g. costs or dates
  • only rarely for emphasis, e.g. 'Do not report this online if it's an emergency' 
  • sparingly to avoid it becoming meaningless and distracting
  • in place of uppercase, italic or underlined formatting to highlight

Never bold a whole sentence, paragraph or link.

Tables

Use tables to display information, particularly figures, in a simple and easy to read format. They should not be used to control the layout of your page.

You can use tables for:

  • timetables (e.g. term dates)
  • event dates and times
  • any occasion where it makes data easier to understand

Links 

Adding links (signposts) to your content can help users navigate to relevant web pages and documents.

When adding links to a web page, you should:

  • make important links prominent 
  • use relevant anchor text such as the document or web page name. Don’t use generic terms such as ‘click here’ or ‘more’
  • use verbs – ‘Download the form’ is better than merely ‘Application form’
  • provide context – clearly explain where the link will take the user

Open internal links (pages on suffolk.gov.uk) in the same window, and external links (pages on other websites) in a new window.

Return to the start of the content guidelines

6. Our house style

This section offers guidance on how to write and publish in our house style. 

Capitalisation

Capital letters reputedly make sentences 13-18% harder to read – that’s why we begin page titles with a capital letter and continue in lowercase.

We never write in all capitals, as online this looks like we’re shouting. The exception to this is when using acronyms or initialisms, e.g. ACS, DVLA and GOV.UK.

Acronyms and initialisms

Acronyms are when you combine the first letters of several words to create a new word, e.g. MASH instead of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub.

Initialisms are when you combine the first letters of several words, but you’d say the individual letters, e.g. CYP instead of Children and Young People.

Our convention for suffolk.gov.uk is to write both acronyms and initialisms in capitals.

Write acronyms or initialisms out in full when using them for the first time on a suffolk.gov.uk page. E.g. write ‘Adult and Community Services (ACS)’ the first time this service is mentioned on the page.

You can then continue using ACS through the remainder of the page.

Documents

You can add documents to a web page for users to download.

Types of documents include:

  • meeting agendas
  • application forms
  • transport timetables
  • plans and policies
  • service leaflets

When adding documents to a web page:

  • provide the file size, e.g. ‘School application form (Word doc, 349KB)’
  • upload a PDF whenever possible - it preserves formatting better

Addresses

When writing addresses:

  • include a postcode in the address
  • check the address is correct
  • use the format:
Suffolk County Council,
Endeavour House,
8 Russell Road,
Ipswich,
Suffolk,
IP1 2BX

Websites

When writing web addresses:

  • present the link in this format: www.suffolkjobsdirect.org
  • it may occasionally be appropriate to simply write ‘suffolk.gov.uk’
  • check the website domain and link are correct

You can create short URLs to redirect to web pages with long web addresses. 

To create a short URL, contact digitalcontentteam@suffolk.gov.uk.

Phone numbers

When writing telephone numbers:

  • display landline numbers as 01234 123456
  • write mobile phone numbers as 07712 345678
  • don’t use an international code for the UK (0044) unless a page is specifically aimed at users abroad
  • check the phone number is correct

Dates and times

When writing dates and times:

  • use ‘Thursday 16 October 2014’ rather than ‘16/10/14’ or ‘16th Oct 2014’
  • spell the month in full, e.g. ‘September’, not ‘Sept’
  • show time as 9am or 1pm, e.g. ‘the deadline is at 10am’
  • write opening hours as 'Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm', not 'Mon-Fri, 9am - 5pm'
  • avoid using the 24-hour clock where possible – 19:00 is less understood than 7pm
  • use a specific date rather than saying ‘today’ or ‘recently’ (exception: news articles)
  • check that dates and times are correct

Numbers and ages

When writing numbers:

  • present numbers using digits (but spell numbers when starting a sentence), e.g. ‘There are 3 ways you can apply’, but ‘Three ways to apply are’
  • present numbers as: 100; 1,000; 10,000; 100,000; 1 million
  • decades are written: ‘1980s’, not ‘1980’s’, ‘80s’ or ‘eighties’
  • always show digits in a table

When writing ages, use the formats:

  • the 21-year-old woman
  • the woman is 21 years old

Money and fees

When writing currencies and fees:

  • present amounts in this format: £2.50; £250; £2,500, £25,000, £250,000; £2.5 million
  • check the amount is correct

Weights, distances and temperature

Write measurements using metric units, although it may be appropriate to convert them into imperial units. Exception: use miles, not kilometres.

Always use Celsius, not centigrade or Fahrenheit. We always use digits with temperatures (e.g. 8C, 10C, 42C).

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.”

Symbols, punctuation and other abbreviations

  • Italics are commonly used in writing to denote a published title (e.g. a book or film) or to indicate intonation, but online italicisation can be difficult to read so try to avoid using it
  • Percent should be written using the ‘%’ symbol, e.g. ‘The council’s target was 95%’
  • Ampersands should not be used, e.g. say ‘roads and transport’ not ‘roads & transport’
  • ‘For example’ should be shortened to ‘e.g.’ wherever possible
  • Exclamation marks should never be used

Return to the start of the content guidelines

7. Editing and proofreading

This section provides guidance on editing, proofreading your content.

Editing 

When editing your content, be sure to:

  • cut redundant words – text that doesn’t add anything to a phrase or sentence is unnecessary, so delete it
  • split long sentences – if a sentence is longer than 25 words, it might be easier to read if it is divided into shorter sentences.
  • keep paragraphs concise – try to limit yourself to a few short sentences per paragraph; don’t be afraid of one-sentence paragraphs
  • check for clarity – use the Hemingway app to make your writing bolder and clearer, although remember this tool is only a guide
  • test the readability – use the Readability Test Tool to check the literacy rate appropriateness of your page
  • check content is appropriate – don’t include classified information or private data that should not be published

Proofreading

To spot errors when proofreading you can:

  • use spell check – but don’t rely on it (it might not tell you if you’ve used a legitimate word in the wrong context)
  • change the font - making the style and size unfamiliar can help you see mistakes
  • print it out - reading your content in a different context enables you to see more clearly 
  • read it out loud – you can pick up mistakes by reading words out loud
  • read it backwards - this old copywriter's trick can highlight individual typos
  • ask someone else to read it  – this can provide a value fresh perspective

Return to the start of the content guidelines

8. Spelling, grammar and punctuation

It’s easy to make common spelling and grammar mistakes. Ensure your writing is accurate by checking it against the following language rules and conventions.

Singular and plural

Write collective nouns – companies, governments and other bodies – as singular entities.

This means we write ‘Suffolk County Council is…’, not ‘Suffolk County Council are…’

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

Spelling

Write using British English, not American English. For example:

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

Tip: make sure your spellcheck is set to British English, and refer to the Oxford English Dictionary if you’re ever unsure.

Hyphenation

Check to see if words you’ve used should/shouldn’t have hyphens.

Examples of words that use hyphens:

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

Words that don’t use hyphens:

  • email
  • ebooks
  • ecommerce
  • online

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

There are apostrophes showing possession and apostrophes showing omission.

Apostrophes indicating possession are used for:

  • a person’s name that ends in ‘s’, e.g. ‘Thomas’ house’
  • a plural noun that already ends in ‘s’, e.g. ‘The work will start in two weeks’ time’

Apostrophes indicating omission are used when:

  • contractions have led to ‘missing’ words, e.g. ‘today’s the day’

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

Return to the start of the content guidelines

9. Short version of the guidelines

Use this 10-step 'cheat sheet' guide to quickly check how to plan, write and edit content for suffolk.gov.uk.

1. Follow our principles

Content published on the Suffolk County Council website should adhere to our content principles. We believe content should be:

  • easy to find – it should be intuitive to locate and navigate
  • accessible – it should be written simply, in plain English
  • useful – it should be helpful, accurate and meet user needs
  • concise – it should be easy and quick to read and understand
  • well-presented – it should be formatted so users can scan the information
  • written in the right tone of voice – it should feel consistent and appropriate

2. Plan your content

Ensure your content meets user needs. You should: 

  • plan your content
  • write for specific users
  • have a clear purpose
  • optimise for search
  • avoid duplicate content

3. Use the right tone

Write in a consistent tone that is clear and easy to understand. Suffolk County Council’s voice is:

  • active – address the user, and use personal pronouns, e.g. ‘we will send you a letter’ rather than ‘a letter will be sent by the council’
  • direct – get to the point, and be concise, e.g. ‘this page is about potholes’, rather than ‘residents of Suffolk can find information about potholes on this page’
  • conversational – write naturally using contractions, e.g. ‘check if you’re eligible’, rather than ‘check if you are eligible’
  • authoritative – don’t become too friendly or casual, e.g. ‘you can call us’, rather than ‘give us a ring’
  • specific – use precise language, e.g. ‘the election is on Thursday 7 May’, rather than ‘the election is in spring next year’
  • helpful – asking questions can feel more caring and appropriate, e.g. ‘need another way to pay?’ rather than ‘there are other ways to pay’
  • encouraging – use verbs that prompt users to take action, rather than front-loading page titles, e.g. ‘apply for a Blue Badge’ rather than ‘Blue Badge applications’
  • welcoming – use reassuring language about online content and transactions, e.g. ‘you can access services faster, easier and safely online’
  • emotion-neutral – avoid personal opinions, feelings or your individual style of writing, but ensure content always seems written by a human

4. Write in plain English

Plain English helps users read and process information effectively. To write in plain English you should:

  • address the user directly and clearly
  • avoid jargon, metaphors and technical words (e.g. ‘impact’; ‘key’; ‘horizon-scanning’)
  • use  familiar and everyday terms (e.g. ‘working with’ instead of ‘collaborating’)
  • simplify legal or technical language

5. Format your content

Make your content easy to scan and quickly understood by using formatting techniques such as:

  • clear titles
  • descriptive summaries
  • concise sentences and paragraphs
  • images and videos
  • headings
  • bullet points
  • numbered lists
  • bold text
  • tables
  • links (i.e. 'signposting)

6. Check for style

If you are unsure about how to write in our style, the full content guidelines has tips on:

  • capitalisation
  • acronyms
  • dates
  • times
  • addresses
  • numbers
  • units of measurement

7. Edit your content

When editing try to:

8. Proofread your content

To spot errors in your content you can:

  • use spellcheck
  • change the font style and size 
  • print it out
  • read it out loud
  • read it backwards
  • ask someone else to read it

9. Double check for common mistakes

Check for easy-to-make grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, such as:

  • singular/plural nouns (e.g. Suffolk County Council is, not Suffolk County Council are)
  • homophones (e.g. affect/effect; complement/compliment)
  • spelling – make sure you’re using British English, not American English
  • tautologies (e.g. new innovation; past history)
  • other common mistakes (e.g. fewer/less; it’s/its; they’re/their; your/you’re)

10. Review this publishing checklist

Make sure you’ve answered these questions before you publish.

1. Have you written for a specific user need?

2. Does your content have a clear purpose?

3. Is your content necessary and original?

4. Have you written clearly in plain English?

5. Have you used the right tone of voice?

6. Have you edited the content to be as concise as possible?

7. Have you proofread for style, grammar and formatting errors?

8. Is your web content page optimised for search engines?

9. Is your web content well organised and presented?

10. Is your content page easy to find on the website?

If you're in doubt, ask yourself if your content answers this question: 

‘Content should be easy to findaccessibleusefulconcisewell-presented and use the right tone of voice'

Return to the start of the content guidelines

10. Presentation version of the guidelines

You may find it easier to follow our Prezi of the content guidelines

Return to the start of the content guidelines

11. Background to the guidelines

The Suffolk County Council content guidelines have been created in conjunction with the council’s Digital Transformation programme. They have also been conceived in line with central government’s Digital by Default initiative.

Why publish the guidelines? 

We decided to publish the guidelines on suffolk.gov.uk to be more:

  • accessible – you’ll be able to find them using search engines
  • useful – you can jump to any point in the guidelines using anchor links 
  • flexible – making changes to a web page is easier than editing and circulating documents
  • transparent – we’re completely open with the public about how our content should appear 
  • accountable – if we’re not practising what we preach, users will let us know

These guidelines are based on the following five main areas of insight and input.

Feedback from the public

Members of the public have suggested improvements to suffolk.gov.uk content through user testing and public consultations.

The main areas suggested for improvement highlighted were:

  • language and tone
  • service categorisation
  • organisation and formatting
  • page layout

Research into best practice

Local and national government web style guides have been reviewed to establish a best practice consensus on:

  • formats of government style guides
  • length and depth of government content guidelines
  • agreement over government writing style, tone and language

Auditing content on suffolk.gov.uk

Content evaluations of suffolk.gov.uk have taken place to identify the need for new guidelines to be created for the website.

Areas of content reviewed and highlighted for improvement included:

  • language, tone and voice
  • content formatting and organisation
  • signposting and linking

Working with groups within the council

Consultations have taken place within Suffolk County Council. These incorporated a wide variety of views on areas such as language, tone of voice and content principles.

Groups consulted included:

  • public website managers and agents
  • digital transformation user group participants

Analysis of academic studies

Research into how people read online has been analysed to understand:

  • how users read and understand digital information
  • how web information can be made more accessible
  • how language can affect user sentiment and comprehension

Return to the start of the content guidelines

12. Useful tools and resources

Government resources

Resources for content designers (GOV.UK)

Content principles: conventions and research background (GOV.UK)

Digital content standards (LocalGov Direct)

Media resources

News style guide (BBC)

Writing for the web (BBC)

Style guide (Guardian)

Style Guide (The Economist)

Language guides

How to write in plain English (PlainEnglish.co.uk)

Plain English (Plain Language Commission)

The A-Z of alternative words (Plain English Campaign)

Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press)

Writing tools

Hemingway - make your writing bolder and clearer

The Readability Test Tool - check the literacy age of your content

Grammarly - check the accuracy of your content

MobileTest.me - check how your content appears on mobile devices

Jargone - highlights jargon words on any webpage, add it to your bookmark bar and click

Grammar articles

10 grammar rules you can forget (Guardian)

The 11 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them (Business Insider)

11 Grammar Lessons From the Leaked CIA Style Book (Mental Floss)

Top 10 Proofreading Tips (About Education)

Image resources

Creative Commons (free)

Gratisography (free)

IMFree (requires attribution)

iStockphoto (premium)

picjumbo (free)

Public Domain Archive (free)

Return to the start of the content guidelines