Planning content

Government Digital Service

December 4
15:20 2020

What to publish on GOV.UK

All content published on GOV.UK must have a clear user need backed up with evidence.

Content should be published either:

Content that does not do one of these things should not be published on GOV.UK.

What should not be published

The following types of content should not be published on GOV.UK:

  • content that repeats or significantly overlaps with existing content
  • advertising for commercial purposes
  • intranet or other services exclusively for civil servants
  • professional training or qualifications
  • information or advice that is not specific to government and can be provided by other organisations or charities, for example housing advice from Shelter or business help from the British Business Bank
  • legislation thats on
  • information from sites and agencies exempt from transition to GOV.UK
  • organisations and companies, like mutuals, that are not publicly owned
  • content only relevant to users in devolved parts of the UK (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)

Where to put guidance content on GOV.UK

Guidance is practical information that people need to complete a task or make a decision.

All guidance published on GOV.UK must have a clear user need (backed up with evidence) and be about something the government does (for example issuing passports or driving licences).

Before you create guidance content you must decide whether your users are:

  • members of the public (or small businesses) with no specialist skills or experience - mainstream users
  • specialists who are trained or experienced

Guidance for mainstream users

Mainstream guidance:

  • is for the general public or small businesses
  • is written for users who do not have (and are not expected to have) any previous experience or specialist knowledge of the subject
  • guides users from when their need arises to when they complete a task or have the information they need to complete a task (this can include directing users to third-party organisations)
  • is organised and written by task, rather than audience or the government department or agency
  • explains the current situation - it only describes future changes if they are certain or very likely to happen and affect choices a user can make right now, for example if users should apply for something now because a scheme is closing or a service will be down for maintenance

Volume of users does not necessarily make something suitable or unsuitable for mainstream guidance.

Mainstream guidance must not:

  • duplicate content better served by other organisations (for example charities, the NHS, Citizens Advice)
  • give advice or offer opinions

Guidance for mainstream users is written and maintained by the content team at GDS.

Send a content request for new content or to make changes to existing content.

Guidance for specialist users

Specialist guidance:

  • is aimed at specific audiences who already have an understanding of the topic
  • assumes the user has some expert knowledge that will allow them to understand the guidance and take action
  • does not promote government initiatives or policies - use the campaigns platform or other channels to support marketing or promotional activity, or use a news story or press release for announcements
  • does not explain the policy behind the guidance

Some users want to know the detail of policy, but analysis and research has shown that theyre rarely the same users as those looking for guidance.

The detail of policies should be in a policy paper or one of the other formats that help users understand what government is doing.

Specialist guidance should not duplicate mainstream guidance. It can include a specific part of a mainstream task if it only needs to be done by a small proportion of users. For example, it should not take specialist knowledge to understand National Insurance, but only some users will need to understand National Insurance for share fishermen.

Guidance for specialist users is created by government departments using Whitehall publisher.

Content that helps users understand what government is doing

You need to make sure you choose the right content type when you create content about what government is doing.

There are over 40 content types on GOV.UK, each of which has been developed for a specific purpose.

To help you choose the right one, you should:

New government activity or policy: content types to use

These are the relevant formats to use when the government talks about what its doing. The following real life examples show how you might meet users needs for information about government policy. Theyre intended as illustrations.

Top-level introductions to policy

Analysis and research shows there is little audience for top-level introductions to policy compared with task-focused guidance content.

However, sometimes theres a need to explain government activity in brief, without going into the level of detail that users of the policy paper format expect.

The best way to know how to publish this is to explore the user need more closely. How and why will users find this information? Its bad content design practice to burden users with information thats irrelevant to what they need right now.

Policy in guidance

Around 80% of page visits on GOV.UK are to guidance to help users complete a task or interaction with government. Most people will not read background text thats not relevant to the task theyre performing.

Some users want to know the detail of policy, but they are not the same users as people looking for guidance.

Guidance on how to apply for a programme or scheme should not include more than 1 or 2 sentences about what the programme is.

Guidance should not include:

  • why it exists (the problem being solved)
  • how much money has been allocated to it
  • who runs it
  • aspirational statements about the intended outcome

These should be in a policy paper or other formats explained in the scenarios in this guidance.

Scenario 1: announcing a new policy or activity

There are a number of formats you can use to tell users about a new policy or activity.

These formats include:

These are sufficient to announce something new until more specific information is available.

An example announcement is Government sets out plans to reshape workplace pensions.

Scenario 2: policy top-level introductions

Use a policy paper to set the context and reasoning behind a policy.

This means you can explain the intentions and research behind a policy separately from information about how its being implemented.

Scenario 3: government activity top-level introductions

If this information is brief, you can add it to a relevant corporate inf

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