Avoid sections associated with print publications

Research shows that users value consistency when scrolling through content on the website. We need to be consistent in the language, structure and section headings we use and ensure we are using best practice for web writing. 

Sections that are traditionally associated with print publications will slow down users and should be avoided. This includes sections such as Abstracts or Executive Summaries, Introductions, Conclusions and Authors or Acknowledgements.

Abstract or Executive Summary

Abstracts and executive summaries were used in print publications to provide a brief summary and give the user a feel for what the article was about. This type of section slows down online users and stops them getting to the analysis.

Best practice for web writing is to use a clear and well-written page summary to provide an overview of what the article is about. This should be no more than 160 characters and have the most important information first. The summary appears alongside the title in search engines. 

If you need help writing your title or summary, email the content design team at content.design@ons.gov.uk.

Disclaimer

This section was often included before the analysis to highlight the experimental nature of the data, but putting this sort of information first often slows down users. Include any disclaimer information or details on Experimental Statistics status in the Data sources and quality section under a clear subheading. You can also call out critical limitations in your analysis.

Introduction or Background information

Similar to abstracts, these types of sections are not suited to web writing. They slow down users and stop them getting to the main messages of the content. 

Online users want information quickly and easily, so include the most important information first; think of the inverted pyramid. Any background information should be included based on order of importance for the user and weaved into the main analysis or information sections. 

Any information on data sources, quality, recent changes and methods should be included in the Data sources and quality section. 

Things you need to know about this release and Background notes

These sections were used in the old bulletin structure but testing showed that users did not understand the purpose of these sections and often scrolled past them.

You can make it easier for users to find and use content by including it in the Data sources and quality section with clear and descriptive subheadings, or by weaving it into the main analysis or information sections where possible.

If the information is available on another web page, link to it using clear and descriptive link text.

Authors and Acknowledgements

We should present our data, analysis and statistics as a collective organisation, the ONS, rather than as individual authors. This is to increase objectivity and establish trust and authenticity with our users. 

Avoid including authors and/or acknowledgements sections. The contact name at the top of the page provides a direct point of contact for users to ask any questions about the article or to seek further information. The name provided should be the best person to contact with any queries about the article or the data; it does not have to be the author or the Deputy Director. See Collaborations for information on how to reference the input of external organisations.

Collaborations

If you need to refer to an external organisation that you have collaborated with when writing or creating your content, include this information under a subheading in the Data quality and sources section. 

Avoid adding separate collaboration sections, particularly at the start of the article, as these slow down users and stop them getting to the main findings and analysis.

You can make clear that certain data have come from other providers within your analysis if necessary.

Questions as section headings

Avoid using questions as section headings; they take users longer to scan and understand than simple headings, and users cannot take any meaning from them at a quick glance. This makes it harder to find the information they need quickly.

Guidance from the Government Digital Service (GDS) is to use short, clear label headings that put the most important information first. These allow users to quickly scan the headings and find the topic they are interested in. For example, “Definition of international migration” is much easier to take meaning from than “What is the standard definition of international migration?”.

Conclusion

The Main points or Main changes section will include your most important messages, trends or information; there is no need to duplicate your content in a conclusion further down the page. Think of the inverted pyramid structure, which puts the most important information first. 

Feedback

User feedback is really important to help us improve our content or surveys, but it is not the main priority for users; research shows that most users want to get the latest analysis and data. 

Include any requests for feedback in the Data sources and quality section under a clear subheading; avoid including a separate feedback section. This makes it available for those users who wish to give feedback without interrupting the analysis.

Quality and methodology

This section is from the old bulletin structure but was used by many articles to highlight any essential method information. 

Use the Data sources and quality section to provide a brief summary of data sources, to highlight any important caveats of the data, and to provide links to any relevant methodology pages. Using a standard heading for this section will create consistency for users.

References

Reference sections do not work well online as they involve a lot of scrolling for users, who can easily lose their place. They should be avoided where possible. Using hyperlinks within your text is best practice for web writing and helps users get to any information they need without having to scroll.

Only include a references section if the publications you need to reference are offline and cannot be linked to. If there are only a couple of offline references that you need to link to, include these as footnotes to the relevant section rather than as a separate section. This keeps the reference with the content it relates to and prevents users having to scroll, but avoid using footnotes where possible as they are not very accessible.

Follow our guidance for writing accessible reference sections if your users need you to include one.

Annexes and Appendices

These sections are traditionally used to provide additional or supplementary information, but they often duplicate content. Including these sections in online articles makes the pages longer and increases the amount of scrolling for users.

If the information in your annex or appendix is available on another page, use clearly written hyperlinks to link to the page instead of duplicating the information. If the appendix is lengthy and contains additional analysis or data, consider publishing it as a separate article that can be linked to from the article.

Warnings

Warning patterns are used to highlight essential data limitations to the user. They are associated with new releases of data and should only be used in bulletins. Include any information about the quality or accuracy of the data in the Data sources and quality section and provide a brief summary in the main text or analysis. 

If you need to highlight that the analysis or data are experimental, you can do this in the summary and include a subsection called “Experimental Statistics” in the Data sources and quality section.

Next: View the article types and how to structure them