Main points

Highlight the most important and interesting findings from your bulletin at a glance. Most users read the main points and nothing else.

Rank up to six main points in order of importance for your users.

Each main point should:

  • be a single bullet point
  • contain one message that is expanded on in the bulletin
  • be a single sentence starting with what’s happened, followed by the significance of this; use a semicolon to split up the sentence if necessary

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%; it has not been lower since October to December 1974.

Research shows that users want the headline figures quickly, so avoid prefacing your main points with any introduction or warnings. Do not introduce detailed definitions or quality warnings in your main points.

The content design team can help you to write impactful and user-friendly main points – email content.design@ons.gov.uk.

Statistician’s comment

Some bulletins include a statistician’s comment. It is primarily for the media but should highlight something of interest to all users.

The comment puts the main findings in context; it should not just repeat something that the user can read elsewhere in the bulletin. 

The comment should:

  • be short; up to 75 words
  • be placed in double quote marks
  • be followed by the name of the person quoted, their job title and a link to a relevant  ONS Statistician’s Twitter profile (if there is one)

The comment must be approved by the Media Relations Office.

“Marriage rates remain at historical lows despite a small increase in the number of people who got married in 2016. Most couples are preferring to do so with a civil ceremony and for the first time ever, less than a quarter of everyone who married had a religious ceremony. Meanwhile, the age at which people are marrying continues to hit new highs as more and more over 50s get married.”

Kanak Ghosh, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics

Follow Vital Statistics Outputs Branch on Twitter @NickStripe_ONS

How to write comments

Writing statistician comments for media use is different from other kinds of writing on  the ONS website. Read the full Media Relations Office’s guidance (Word, 18.6KB). Also remember these tips:

  • use a conversational tone of voice; imagine you are explaining the point to an intelligent but non-specialist friend in a friendly chat 
  • avoid jargon and technical language; use everyday plain English
  • do not just wrap speech marks around your main points; explain the significance of what the bulletin reveals in words, ideally avoiding numbers altogether  
  • use well-chosen adjectives; for example “a sharp rise” rather than a “15% increase”
  • be careful when using metaphors or figures of speech and avoid clichés (like the plague!)
  • make sure the comment addresses the main angle or issue that the media story is likely to focus on – the Media Relations Office can help with this
  • never make predictions, chase headlines or sensationalise the numbers; public trust in what we do is far more important than a little extra media attention.

Analysis

When writing about statistics, focus on what is interesting, noteworthy or important to the majority of users. Consider what is the most important information that supports your message.

If you want to know more about who uses your bulletin, take a look at our user personas or contact the content design team at content.design@ons.gov.uk.

Your text should be concise, in plain English and written with the user in mind. Many may not be experts; 56% of our users access the website from home.

Use text and simple charts or tables to give more detail and context. Your written analysis should add to your visuals, not just report what they show. It is not necessary to comment on every trend shown in a chart or table.

Flag concerns about the data using warnings. These should be short and any more detail should go in the Strengths and limitations section.

How much to write

Analytics show that users spend an average of four minutes looking at bulletins. A typical person would read around 900 words during this time. Aim to limit the amount of analysis on the page to be shorter than this.

If you are unsure whether something is going to be useful or interesting, do not include it. Users can still find the data in datasets, and an accompanying article can provide further detail if there is a user need.

If you think your analysis will be more than 900 words, we can help structure your content – email content.design@ons.gov.uk.

How to structure your analysis

Use section headings to break your analysis into broad themes. This helps users find the information they are looking for in the table of contents. Section headings should be short, descriptive labels that reflect themes users are interested in.

The analysis in the Employment in the UK bulletin could be structured around the headings “Employment”, “Unemployment” and “Economic inactivity”.

Within sections use subheadings and chart titles that summarise the main trends to break up your analysis. These do not appear in the table of contents but research shows that subheadings make it easier for users to:

  • get the most important messages at a glance
  • find which part of the page contains what they are looking for
  • get a feel for what the following text or chart is going to tell them

Use a new subheading every time you discuss a new subject or trend. Put the most important point at the start. Subheadings should be a maximum of 75 characters including spaces to prevent the text wrapping over too many lines, particularly on mobile.

Employment rate for women was 72%, the joint-highest on record

You can use a chart title instead of a subheading to break up your text. Chart titles should follow our guidance and highlight an important trend in the figure. Avoid using subheadings and chart titles that say the same thing one after another. 

Preventing misuse of your data

Use “warnings” to highlight crucial limitations that affect how users interpret the data. They prevent misuse of data, with minimal interruption to the content.

Warnings are designed to stand out from your analysis so that users notice them; using too many, or including too much detail, distracts users. Only use warnings in the analysis section. You should not include any hyperlinks within the warning box.

The data in this bulletin come from surveys of households and businesses. It is not possible to survey every household and business each month, so these statistics are estimates based on samples.

How to write a warning

Do

  • Highlight essential limitations of the data to help users avoid misinterpreting the data.
  • Keep warnings short and clear; when text is hard to understand, people retain less information.
  • Only use warnings when they have a direct effect on how users interpret the content around them.
  • Include only relevant information; use the Measuring the data or Strengths and limitations sections to add detail.

Do not

  • Use warnings too often; it disrupts the reading experience, makes it difficult to understand the content and reduces the effectiveness of each warning.
  • Place warnings next to each other as they overwhelm users and get in the way.
  • Position warnings before your analysis; testing has shown that users find it confusing to read warnings before commentary.
  • Provide definitions in warnings; instead, define terms briefly in your analysis, and use the glossary section to provide more detail.
  • Include hyperlinked text to other sections or articles; instead, any further detail should be included in the Strengths and limitations section, or linked to from there.

Warnings should be short

Warnings have a strict character limit of 280 characters. The shorter the warning, the more effective it will be. Presenting too much information to users makes it less likely that they will understand and retain the warning. Long warnings are also problematic for users on mobile devices or with accessibility needs.

If you need to explain the limitations of the data in more detail, expand on it in the Strengths and limitations section.

The content design team can help you to write short, effective warnings – contact content.design@ons.gov.uk if you want to discuss a warning you are working on.

Next section: Data and methodology