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Content guides Basic content principles

1. Keep it short and simple

All content should be clearly written in plain language. Keep it as short as possible. In general, you should:

  • limit each paragraph to one or two sentences
  • use short sentences of no more than 25 words
  • be clear
  • avoid long, complex words and jargon
  • avoid complicated sentence structures
  • stick to one idea or theme per paragraph
  • be consistent with your language and tone

Structure your content with the most important words or points first. This ensures that if the user is skimming the page, they read the most important thing.

There is more guidance on writing in plain English on Style.ONS 

2. Think about the words

There is a list of words not to use on Style.ONS  . Also avoid the following and use the alternatives suggested:

A table of words not to use with suggested alternatives
Avoid using Suggested alternative
On behalf of For
Elsewhere Rest of the world/outside the UK (as appropriate)
Specify Describe
Currently Now
Click Select
Type Enter
Business’ Business’s

Use high-frequency words that are more likely to be familiar to users.

Do not use Latin as it may not be familiar to users. Use “for example,” instead of “e.g”.

Follow the Style.ONS guidance for abbreviations 

3. Use active voice

An active sentence makes clear who is doing what by putting the subject of the sentence up front, making it easier to read and understand. The subject is doing something to the object (direct) rather than the subject being acted upon by the object.

For example, make the sentence “A trend is shown by the study” active by changing it to “The study shows a trend”.

4. Break up text

Subheadings

Use subheadings to break up large blocks of text. It is easier for users to read content if it is in smaller chunks.

Write subheadings in the active voice. Keep them as short and as clear as possible. They should plainly describe what the section is about.

Bullet points

Bullet points are also a good way to break up text and make it easier for users to follow. For example, the list of bullet points in the page titles and URLs guidance clearly highlights the main points.

5. Accessibility

Breaking up text, consistency, good subheadings and concise plain language all make content accessible for users.

Other things to consider are:

  • do not use brackets around text unless absolutely necessary as they can slow down reading
  • avoid using contractions, like “don’t” or “it’s”, as they may not be understood by screen readers and can be difficult to process for some users
  • do not use ampersands as they can also be misunderstood by screen readers or be difficult for users to understand
  • write front-loaded links that describe the destination page
  • provide alt text for images
  • avoid directional text, like “above” or “below”, as this could be misleading for users of assistive tech
There is more detail about web accessibility on Style.ONS 

Ask for help

If you need help writing your documentation, email ons.design.system@ons.gov.uk  to ask a content designer.