Writing and editing Structuring content
It is important to write simply and using plain language
You should also consider the reading order of your content so that it flows naturally. If you are unsure, test your content by asking someone to read through it to make sure the language and order makes sense. You can also read it out loud to check your sentences and paragraphs are not too long.
Use the inverted pyramid
The most important information in your content must be at the start – this is called frontloading.
We use the inverted pyramid to achieve this, placing information in order of importance on the page. This is best practice for writing online content.
The main information of the content – who, why, what, where, when and how – should appear in the first paragraphs so that most users will see it. This is because only 80% of our users tend to scroll to the end of the first section of the page. Only a small percentage of users make it to the bottom of the page.
The inverted pyramid structure is:
- most important information
- important details
- other general or background information
Avoid structuring your content using the traditional structure of an Introduction, Results, Conclusion and Appendices. This academic structure is not best practice for web writing as it places important information at the bottom of the page rather than at the top. This means that users have to scroll through lots of background information to find what they need.
Descriptive headings and subheadings
Headings and sub-headings within the page help users to scan your content. They are also important for people using assistive technologies to navigate a page.
Titles of releases should use the heading level 1 (H1) format and sub-headings under that move logically down the heading levels. Do not skip a level – for example, do not go from H2 to H4. Screen reader users may navigate content through heading levels so a missed level can be confusing.
Make sure headings are short, frontloaded and use the active voice.
“International migration definition”
“What is the standard definition of international migration?”
Use a statistical heading, describing the content of the following text, rather than a headline that describes the story. This is shorter and easier for the user to understand when scanning through the table of contents.
Consumer Prices Index
CPI rose by 5.5% in the 12 months to January 2022
We use standardised section headings for bulletins and articles to provide users with a consistent experience, regardless of topic.
Avoid questions as section headings
Avoid using questions as section headings. They take users longer to scan and understand than simple headings, and users cannot take meaning from them at a quick glance. This makes it harder to find the information they need quickly.
“Definition of international migration” is much easier to take meaning from quickly than “What is the standard definition of international migration?”
Avoid section headings associated with print publications
Best practice for web writing is to include clear, descriptive, and frontloaded headings. This will ensure that users can easily scan your content to find what they need.
Sections that are traditionally associated with print publications and academia are often generic and do not clearly tell the user what they can expect to find in each section. The following sections and headings should be avoided in your content:
- Executive summary
- Background information
- Authors and acknowledgements
- Background notes
- Appendices and annexes
Instead, think about what that section is trying to convey to the user and where it might be best placed.
For example, an abstract or executive summary can often be replaced with a clear and well-written page summary. A lengthy disclaimer section that is likely to be skipped by users could be replaced with a clear warning box to highlight important quality caveats.
Structuring paragraphs and sentences
As with the overall structure, each paragraph and sentence should be frontloaded with the most important information at the start.
When writing your content, your paragraphs should:
- have no more than four sentences that follow a logical order
- begin with the most important information for that paragraph, meaning readers can skim through the information
- make complete sense on their own
- cover one subject
Individual sentences should be no longer than 25 words. If they are any longer, they may need to be divided into two.
A sentence should not start with a figure. If it does, the sentence should be restructured.
“47% of people in the population of the UK are left-handed.”
Should be rewritten as:
“Left-handed people make up 47% of the UK population.”