Author Archives: Amelia Nilan

Why writing for users is important

As a public organisation, it is important that our content is understandable and accessible to all users. 

By writing content with your users in mind, you will help them have a positive experience and achieve what they set out to do when visiting your page. 

Users engage more with clear and informative content. They are more likely to read more of a page or share your content on social media. Ultimately, user-centred content will better inform the public and increase trust and interest in your statistics.  

If you are unsure who your users are or how to write for their needs, the Content Design team will be able to help you. Email content.design@ons.gov.uk

Next topic: Structuring content

Ways we find out about our users

We find out about our users and their needs through:  

  • metrics and analytics 
  • testing content 
  • interviews 
  • surveys 

Using these tools, we can find out:  

  • how many users visit our pages 
  • how they behave on and interact with the page
  • how they got to the page and where they went next 
  • what search terms brought them to our page  

Card sort exercises can also help us to understand our users’ expectations and what topics or information they find most useful. This can help to inform the structure of our content. 

We have a sample of users who test our content and provide us with feedback and observations about how they found using our website. This can help us to understand what users like or find easy to use on a page, as well as what they dislike or find difficult to use.

It can also help us to identify things that may be missed or misunderstood. We can use this feedback to improve the language and design of the content to better meet the needs of users. 

How to write content that meets users’ needs

Research shows that all users want clear, accessible, jargon-free content, written in plain English. This is regardless of their level of knowledge or expertise. 

Users want to be able to find the information they need as quickly as possible. In 2021, the average user on the ONS website spent two minutes on a page, with most users leaving after reading the first section of the page.  

You should prioritise the most important things your users need to know by using the inverted pyramid structure.  

People do not usually read content unless they are looking for information, so if what you have written does not meet the user need, you can probably leave it out.  

Find out what your users’ needs are

Defining user needs

To define your users’ needs, put yourself in the position of the user. Ask yourself who they are, what they need, and why they need it. This will improve your understanding of what they want or need to achieve when visiting your content.

Here is a template that can help you to define a user need: 

  • As a… [who is the user?] 
  • I want/need… [what does the user want or need to do?] 
  • So that I can… [what does the user want to achieve?] 

Here is an example we could use at the ONS: 

  • As a journalist 
  • I need to quickly find the latest data on weekly deaths 
  • So that I can write my news article before my 1pm deadline 

For each piece of content that you write, you might need to define a few different user needs to reflect the different types of users visiting your page. You may need to consider several needs when planning your content. 

Meeting user needs 

When writing and structuring your content, think about how a user need could be met. For example, the user need is met for the previous example when the user can access the weekly deaths data quickly and use the data in their article. 

This allows us to explore multiple ideas for how the user may get this information.  

Avoid solutions when defining a user need

Try not to include a solution when defining your user need. This is known as “solutionising” and can lead to assumptions about your audience. It can prevent you from finding a better way of meeting the user need.   

In our example, a solutionised outcome could be:   

“The user need is met when the user can download an Excel file quickly.”   

In this case, we have made assumptions about how users want to access the information. Excel may not be the best format for an inquiring citizen using a mobile device. 

Identify who your users are

Consider who your users are before you start writing. User personas are evidence-based characterisations of the types of people who use the ONS website. They can help you understand who your users are. These can range from expert users to inquiring citizens. 
 
It can be easy to make assumptions about users that may be wrong. Users will have different levels of knowledge and education, backgrounds and needs from your content. There will also often be other factors that influence their needs and behaviours, such as time constraints or the device they are using.  
 
Remember that you are not the user. Your stakeholders may not be your primary user or make up the largest part of your audience.

All content should meet a user need

Everything we publish should meet a user need. A user need is what somebody wants to achieve when they visit the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. This should be based on evidence and not assumption. 

If you write with users’ needs in mind, it will be easier for people to get the information they need from your content. They will also be more likely to use your data correctly. 

Static pages

There are two types of static pages on the website: static articles and generic static pages. 

Static articles are similar to methodology articles but are mainly used for survey, census and corporate information. They have a table of contents but no PDF download. For example, the How to take part in the COVID-19 Infection Survey and census question development and research pages.

Generic static pages are text-only pages that can only be created in the About us section of the website. They are used to display news and general information, such as events or updates on the work of the organisation. They do not include a table of contents or the option for a PDF download. 

These are stand-alone pages that cannot be built in a series and do not have previous versions. They are different to methodology article pages as they can only be created in certain sections of the website, not in the main statistical areas. 

These pages also allow related downloads on the right-hand side. 

The publishing team can advise on which page type to use for your content – contact them at publishing@ons.gov.uk.

Methodology article pages

Methodology article pages present information on the methods the ONS uses to produce statistics. This includes but is not limited to: 

  • Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) reports 
  • Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD) reports 
  • methodology guides and documents 
  • user guides 
  • glossaries (concepts and definitions) 

These pages should be used to provide detailed explanatory information on data sources, methods, data collection and other aspects of quality such as accuracy, reliability and comparability. They should not be used to present data or analysis. 

Methodology article pages are stand-alone and cannot be built in a series. Content on these pages is replaced as information is revised. These pages should not be used to present changes to a method where a series of articles is needed to show development over time. There is no previous edition, but the “last revised” date shows when it was last updated. 

These pages also allow you to add related downloads on the right-hand side. Avoid including any content that is PDF-only unless it has been agreed as an exception (for example, samples of the census questionnaire, which need to be published in the format they were used). These downloads can also be linked to from the text with clear link text that tells the user where the link will take them; this should also include the file type and size. 

Dataset pages

A dataset page provides users with data downloads (in XLS and CSV format) and any essential information about the data and how to use it.

There are two types of dataset pages: single file datasets and multiple file datasets.

Once you have chosen the page type and the dataset page has been created, it cannot be changed.

Contact Publishing@ons.gov.uk before the page is created if you are unsure which type of dataset page to use.

Single file datasets

The first type of dataset is where a single file is shown on the page, for example, the monthly Output in the construction industry dataset. This file is replaced each time a new version of the dataset is published. The file is labelled as the “current edition of this dataset” and this heading cannot be changed. Superseded versions of the file are available on the “previous versions” page.

Use this type of dataset if you only have one file and your users only need the most up-to-date data.

Multiple file datasets

The second type of dataset is where multiple files are shown on the page, for example, the Weekly deaths dataset. This means you can present the most up-to-date data for multiple time periods and geographies on a single page, without users having to scroll through all the previous versions. Each file has a unique label showing the time period or geography it covers. Each file also has its own previous versions page with superseded versions of the data.

Use this type of dataset if you want to present the latest data for different time periods or geographies, or want to publish provisional, final and revised data.

Dataset pages should not contain any detailed analysis, charts, presentation tables or sections.

The dataset title should not include the time period of the dataset. This should instead be included in the file edition name. View more detail on dataset titles.

Digital content article pages

Digital content articles are collaboratively written with the Digital Content team. They use a neutral article template in Florence and are visually distinct from standard articles as they do not have a table of contents.

These articles are usually on a timely topic and are written for the inquiring citizen. The visualisations are designed so that they can be easily embedded in news websites. The template is designed for shorter articles, ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 words.

These can only be created in the main taxonomy and cannot be created in the census area of the site. They cannot be created in a series and will all be published as one-off, separate publications.

Scrollytelling” articles such as Exploring local income deprivation are based on a different template built by the Digital Content team. 

Email DigitalContent@ons.gov.uk to find out more about digital content articles.