The most important part of your site is the content you provide. Clear, understandable and targeted content is essential to meeting your audiences' needs and ensuring they return to your site.
Minimum content requirements
All NHS organisations have a core set of information that must be held and regularly updated on www.nhs.uk. This information can be replicated as necessary on an organisation's own website. Make sure there is no discrepancy between the content on your own site and nhs.uk.
As a general guide, NHS websites, including staff-facing sites and those associated with publicity campaigns or other initiatives, should use the nhs.uk web address and contain:
- an NHS logo;
- full contact details for the organisation that owns and/or manages the site;
- a clear statement of the purpose of the site and an outline of the information and services it provides;
- any policies, such as terms and conditions, privacy policies etc., that are relevant to using the site.
It is also worth considering these content areas:
- About us – to explain your organisation or campaign's objectives and responsibilities.
- Site map – to enable users to orientate themselves to your website's structure.
- What's new – to highlight new content to encourage users to return to your site.
- Help – to provide useful tips on how to use the site.
- Search – to provide a link to the search facility from every page.
- Access keys – to help people with limited mobility to navigate the site.
How content is presented
- Do not use large blocks of italic or all-caps text, as it is difficult to read.
- Avoid all-caps text; it’s like shouting at your audience.
- Avoid underlined text - it can easily be confused with a link.
- Never use flashing or scrolling text as it contradicts our communication principles and may not be visible to those with older technology.
How content is read
Users don't read web pages word for word. Instead, they scan for key points, so text must help scanning and comprehension - as well as those who use assistive technology. Users should be able to make sense of text on their first reading.
The following pointers make text easier to understand:
- summarise the key points in the first paragraph;
- put the most important point first, and the rest in descending order of importance;
- cut text down to at least 50% shorter than the print equivalent;
- break text up with clear headings and sub-headings;
- use bullet point lists where possible;
- make sure that each page makes sense in isolation in case the user has not seen the rest of the site.
Think about the audience you are writing for and use the words you would use if you were speaking to them. This will help you write clearly and succinctly in a way that they will easily understand.
Writing in plain English will help all users understand your meaning:
- Don't use long or difficult words when shorter or simpler ones will do.
- Avoid jargon and explain any technical terms, even if you think your audience will understand them.
- Use the active rather than passive voice, eg, ‘we will decide’ rather than ‘it has been decided’
- Use short sentences containing one main idea; sentences in a paragraph should have a common theme.
- Only use capital letters where they are really needed; avoid acronyms and abbreviations.
Most web content is written in English, yet we serve a large number of users who speak English as a second or third language and may not be able to read it at all.
If you are considering providing information in other languages, first weigh up:
- the advantages of providing this content on the web;
- the size of the audience who will use this content;
- your ability to source and manage foreign language content;
- the budget implications.
If you do publish content in other languages, remember that:
- all languages do not translate word-for-word - a paragraph in English could be 30% longer in German and 40% longer in Hindi;
- some languages - for example, Urdu and Arabic - are read from right to left;
- each language should have a bookmarkable index page;
- not all web browsers can display a wide range of character sets;
- not all character sets can be published in standard HTML formats; you may need alternatives such as PDF.
Unless your organisation, campaign or initiative covers Wales as well as England, you do not need to provide content in Welsh.
- Have the minimum content requirements been covered?
- Does it match what is held on nhs.uk (if appropriate)?
- Is your content easily scannable and written in plain language?
- Have you followed the links policy?
- Do you have links to nhs.uk and NHS Direct Online from the homepage?
- Are there any broken links on the site?
- Have you complied with the sponsorship and advertising policy?
- Are the legal issues covered?
- Has copyright been assigned appropriately?
- Have the data protection issues been covered?
- Do you have a bookmarkable index page for each non-English language?
Last updated: 29/04/08