Writing for our readers: the new London.gov.uk website

22 June 2015

Hannah Green, Content Editor, provides some useful tips on how to write web copy to make it more readable, findable, and accessible.

The beta version of our new website is now live for everyone to see. This beta site is a ‘work in progress’ version of the new London.gov.uk, which allows us to get feedback from you, our users. Your input will help us get everything looking and working perfectly by the time we go fully live.

As a Content Editor I’ve been liaising with the different teams at City Hall to fill our new website with interesting, engaging, useful and accessible content. My colleague’s blog post explains this process in more detail.

One of the most important roles the content team has is encouraging the organisation to rethink how we communicate online. At City Hall we want to engage with everyone who visits, lives and works in London. One of the easiest ways for this to happen is through our website. So it’s vital that our online audience can find, understand and use our online content.

How do we do this?

Think like a reader: online content is different

We read online content very differently to printed text. We tend to scan online pages, hunting for the information we want and giving up quickly if we don’t find it. This means that when we write for online audiences our content needs to be written and structured with this difference firmly in mind.

The tips below are all methods that we use to make sure that our online content – and our new website – is the best it can be.

Don’t lose your reader: write in plain English

Always assume that your reader knows very little about your subject, and has very little time to find and read the information they need. This means:

  • introducing your subject clearly and concisely. You want to reassure your reader that they’re in the right place and avoid frustrating a reader who actually needs a different page
  • keeping sentences and paragraphs short. This makes it much easier for readers to follow your meaning and to scan the page for what they need
  • never using jargon terms or project names, unless they can be explained fully
  • always thinking about whether there’s a simpler way to communicate a sentence. Chances are there will be!

Help users find your page

Readers will not find your content if they don’t understand what it is. Titles and teaser text need to lead the reader in the right direction, with plain, jargon-free English. We recommend:

  • thinking about what readers will be searching for. For example, ‘Helping Londoners to use the internet’ instead of ‘Digital strategy’
  • using teaser text to explain or demonstrate what readers will find on the page. For example, for a page about carers: ‘Around 700,000 Londoners support an older, disabled or ill relative or friend’

Make your page easy to digest

Readers will very rarely read a whole page; they’ll skim for what they need. If they don’t find it quickly they’ll move on. You can work with this by:

  • frontloading your page. This means putting your conclusion at the top. That way, the reader knows what the page is about and whether they’d like to read on. Your supporting content should come after this. Never hide your most important content at the end
  • splitting your content into sections with headings. This makes it much easier for readers to find what they need and to digest the page
  • breaking up your content with bullet points and bold words and phrases which describe the main point of the paragraph. This makes it easy for readers to find the important bits
  • using videos, images, fact boxes and more to explain things quickly. Readers are more likely to look at headline facts or watch a one minute video, than to read down a full page

Most importantly: keep your content interesting, engaging, accessible and up-to-date!

Why not take a look around our beta website and tell us what you think?