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. 

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.

Find out what your users’ needs are

Write a user story 

User stories can help you to find out what your users want or need to do. They put you in the position of the user and improve your understanding of what they want to achieve. To write a user story you should ask who, what and why. 

Here is a user story template: 

  • 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 have a few different user stories to reflect the different types of users visiting your page. You may need to consider several different needs when planning your content.  

Use acceptance criteria 

Acceptance criteria are outcomes that show that your content has met the user need. Our acceptance criteria for the previous example could be: 

“The user need is met when the user can access the weekly deaths data quickly and use the data in their article”. 

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

Avoid solutions in your criteria 

Try not to include a solution in your criteria, known as “solutionising”.This 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 acceptance criteria 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. 

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.  

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. 

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