https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2019/02/08/keeping-it-simple-content-principles-for-parliament/

Keeping it simple: content principles for Parliament

Information is the currency of the House of Commons and House of Lords with 37 pieces of new content published on parliament.uk every day, on average. This doesn't even include written questions and answers.

It’s impossible to have a single point of approval for all that content. It would be a huge blocker for teams to publish the important information that citizens and parliamentarians rely on. But we still need to maintain standards. Read on for how we think a set of content principles will help.

Supporting multiple editors

Parliament.uk is run with a fully devolved editorial model. This means the website is updated by many different teams. Our central team of content designers provide training to new editors, and then gives those editors access to Parliament’s content management system (CMS). Although their access is restricted to the areas of the website they need to be able to edit, our editors can create, edit, and publish pages without approval from a content designer.

This means teams have autonomy and we can accommodate different publishing processes and schedules. But it isn’t without problems. Even with follow-up support and consultancy from the content team, this fully devolved model has almost certainly contributed to siloed content, duplication, and inconsistency on parliament.uk.

We’re looking at how we can help editors more in future. This includes working with teams to define their level of devolved control as we move their content onto an improved website, as well as having clear and defined guidelines for editors. We also need mechanisms for following up on poor performing content so that teams take responsibility for the lifecycle of that content.

But we're not here to lay down the law. We’re here to remove barriers to publishing good content. So, with that in mind, we’ve developed some content principles for Parliament.

The six principles that guide our content

A poster that says 'The content team promotes plain English'

1. We start - and continue - with user needs, using research and data to make every piece of content count

Parliament’s content is based on user needs, legal requirements, or it’s something that we must publish for transparency reasons. Analytics, user feedback, and evidence can help us work out what people want and need to know, alongside what no one reads or needs. Audits can help us identify problems and continually improve (or know when the time is right to archive).

2. We respect our users’ time with descriptive titles, headings and links, and accurate metadata so people can find what they need

We want people to be able to find what they need to know quickly. We make it clear when and how users can act on our content, whether that’s by getting involved, submitting evidence, or buying a product.

3. We use plain language to make the work of Parliament accessible to all

We owe it to our users to communicate parliamentary information simply and clearly, so they understand the work that goes on here and how it affects them, without having to read jargon. We take time to explain the complexity of Parliament in plain English because if people understand what we're saying it builds trust. No-one has ever complained that content is too easy to understand.

4. We give users the information they need to know - and are entitled to know - with opportunities to learn more

We help users find content easily, at the right level of detail with no dead ends. Users shouldn’t have to understand the complex internal structure of Parliament to get what they want online.

5. We use the active voice so we’re clear about who’s doing what in Parliament

We use the active voice in our content to communicate our messages concisely and clearly.

6. Our content is clear, consistent, and part of the design of the website

Like ‘start with user needs’, this principle stems from Parliament’s digital strategy and our ambition to achieve unity not uniformity, when it comes to our digital services. We should aim for a consistent style, tone, and overall look on our website and the content itself, including any visual assets.

We think these six principles are straightforward and sensible. But we don’t think they’re perfect. We need teams from across Parliament to help us iterate these principles. What do you think? Will they help us improve Parliament’s content? Where are the gaps? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more about the work of the content team

3 comments

  1. Comment by Ude posted on

    Hi there,

    Can I know how'd you maintain a consistent "style, tone, and overall look" in the content and visual assets? what are the best practices?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Replies to Ude>

      Comment by Rebecca Hales posted on

      Hi Ude,

      Thanks for your comment.

      We've got a number of tools to help editors in this.

      With input from a range of different teams across Parliament we've developed an A-Z style guide. This acts as a reference point when creating content for parliament.uk. It contains our content principles, an A-Z of general style, spelling and grammar rules, plus some comprehensive style points that are specific to Parliament. We're hoping to make the style guide public soon, so look out for that.

      To bring consistency to our communication when speaking about the work of Parliament with one voice, we've worked with communications teams in both Houses to develop a UK Parliament identity and tonal guidance. This is for use when creating content that applies to Parliament as a whole. The two Houses and some individual teams within the Houses have developed their own tones of voice. For example, the Education team creates learning materials for young children. These will necessarily be different in tone to the output of the Libraries, who produce research briefings have a different audience.

      Consistency in our overall look for the improved website will come from having a set of design patterns and some clear standards for images and film. We're developing both of those things right now, looking outwards to organisations like the BBC, GDS and others for inspiration and best practice.

      Reply
      • Replies to Rebecca Hales>

        Comment by Ude posted on

        That's lovely. Eagerly awaiting to see the style guides.

        Thank you very much.

        Reply

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