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2017 on the blog

Laptop stickers with 'curiosity' on them

We had a good go at sticking to our 2017 blogging resolutions, but like a lot of people, our intentions didn't quite live up to reality. So we're looking back at what went well last year and what we could do better in 2018.

To recap our resolutions:

  • be more transparent about our recruitment process and what we’re doing to improve it
  • promote our blog posts through different channels and taking advantage of existing networks
  • improve the readability of blog posts by using plain and accessible language
  • publish a variety of posts and more updates from different teams in PDS

Variety show

We published over 120 posts last year ranging from updates on the current and new website to talking about our tech strategy, to why we did the MP portraits and how we dealt with being hacked during the summer. With some guest posts from Hansard and the Parliamentary Archives, among others, in the mix too.

We covered loads of different topics and there were lots of people and teams who blogged for the first time last year so a big thumbs up to them. I think we're really starting to build a blogging culture at PDS and people are definitely less afraid to say things publicly than they were when I started in 2016.

I'm also really pleased with how well the posts that show the human side of PDS have done. It's really important for us to show the people behind the work and some people wrote honest and enlightening accounts of their lives. Tori wrote about openness and Elisabeth blogged about her disability. Others wrote about how flexible working helps them strike a balance with Nik talking about being product lead and Play-Doh lead and Charlotte living in Jersey but working in London.

It's not easy to expose parts of your life to the outside world, especially when it's on a work blog. I hope these posts have set a good example of how sharing can be a positive thing. Our readers appreciated them too as all of these posts were in our top 25 from last year.

There's still work to be done, though, as not every team's work is represented on the blog. It should be our goal in 2018 to encourage more blogging from different areas and to keep sharing what we've done, how we've done it and what lessons we learned along the way.

We need to talk about recruitment

Although we blogged about our recruitment process and what we’re doing to make it better, we need to talk about it more. It can be quite daunting to apply for a job in Parliament and we need to make the process clearer.

There’s obviously a security process to go through when you’re offered a job which we can't talk about in detail. However, candidates have told us that it would be good to understand more about what’s expected of them when applying for a job in Parliament.

Networking, networking, networking

We launched the PDS Twitter and LinkedIn accounts during summer last year to help show our work and the people who do it. They've been working well for us so far and the Twitter account has been great at highlighting our work on this blog.

We’ve also been working with other networks in Parliament to help promote blog posts. We regularly feature in newsletters sent from both Houses and the W4MP website has been really helpful at featuring blog posts which are relevant for MPs and their staff. We want to expand on these networks in 2018 and reach more people who're interested in our work.

Plain English rules

The readability of our posts and writing them in plain English is really important to us. To monitor these, we use a tool called Readable which gives your writing a score on how readable it is.

Flesch Kincaid shows how easy or difficult your writing is to understand and suggests you should aim for a score of between 60% and 80%. Our posts in 2017 had an average score of 60% which is really positive. But it also means there were a lot of posts that fell below that threshold. This year I'd like to see more than 60% of posts get over 60%.

The blog post that had the highest readability score was making meetings great again (sorry about the Trump reference). It scored a whopping 80% and unsurprisingly was written by Joe from the content team, who're big fans of plain English. It's good to see someone practising what they preach.

On average, 13% of words in our blog posts are 'complex' and I'd like to try and lower that to 10% for this year.

I also noticed that the number of words per sentence started to slowly creep up over the year. There’s evidence that shorter sentences are easier to read so we'll need to work harder to make sure our blog posts follow this advice.

Word count can also affect readability but, interestingly, our readers aren't put off by a long read. In fact, some of our longest posts are our most popular. Hansard started blogging this year and their most popular post, 10 things you thought you knew about being a Hansard reporter, was the longest one we published. It was also the fourth most popular in 2017.

We also did some analysis on gender and language in our blog posts which was an eye-opener. I want to continue this sort of analysis and look at different ways of analysing the blog, not just looking at the numbers.

2018 resolutions

It was really interesting looking back at 2017 and seeing how we did compared to the things we wanted to achieve. January 2017 seems a long way away now.

So this year on the blog we'd like to:

  • publish more posts about recruitment and our process
  • find other ways of promoting the work we do
  • improve readability so that more than 60% of blog posts have a readability score higher than 60%
  • lower our average score to 10% of complex words
  • be less wordy and reduce the average number of words per sentence
  • find different ways to analyse the blog, not just numbers
  • encourage other teams to blog - especially those who've never blogged before
  • find more human stories and show the people doing the work

And I promise that there'll be no more Trump references.

Let us know what you think about the blog in the comments. 

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