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Understanding your users Identifying user needs


As a public organisation, it is important that our content is understandable and accessible to all users. By writing content with your users and their needs in mind, you will help them to have a positive experience and achieve what they set out to do when visiting your page.

Users engage more with clear and informative content. They are more likely to read more of a page or share your content on social media. Ultimately, user-centred content will better inform the public and increase trust and interest in your statistics.

Who are your users?

Consider who your users are before you start writing. User personas are evidence-based characterisations of the types of people who use the ONS website. They can help you to understand who your users are and the level of knowledge they hold. These users can range from expert users to inquiring citizens.

It can be easy to make assumptions about users that may be wrong. Users will have different levels of knowledge and education, as well as different backgrounds and needs from your content. There will also often be other factors that influence their needs and behaviours, such as time constraints or the device they are using.

Remember that you are not the user. Your stakeholders may not be your primary user or make up the largest part of your audience.

User needs

Everything we publish should meet a user need. A user need is what somebody wants to achieve when they visit the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. This should be based on evidence and not assumption.

If you write with users’ needs in mind, it will be easier for people to get the information they need from your content. They will also be more likely to use your data correctly.

Define your users' needs

To define your users’ needs, put yourself in the position of the user. Ask yourself who they are, what they need, and why they need it. This will improve your understanding of what they want or need to achieve when visiting your content.

Here is a template that can help you to define a user need: 

  • As a… [who is the user?]
  • I want/need… [what does the user want or need to do?]
  • So that I can… [what does the user want to achieve?]

Here is an example we could use at the ONS:

As a journalist,
I need to quickly find the latest data on weekly deaths,
so that I can write my news article before my 1pm deadline.

For each piece of content that you write, you might need to define a few different user needs to reflect the different types of users visiting your page. You may need to consider several needs when planning your content.

Important information:

In some cases you may have conflicting user needs. Content design can help you to find and create content solutions that meet multiple user needs. Email (opens in a new tab) 

Meeting the user need

When writing and structuring your content, think about how a user need could be met. For example, the user need is met for the previous example when the user can access the weekly deaths data quickly and use the data in their article.

This allows us to explore multiple ideas for how the user may get this information. 

Avoid solutions when defining a user need

Try not to include a solution when defining your user need. This is known as “solutionising” or "solutioneering" and can lead to assumptions about your audience. It can prevent you from finding a better way of meeting the user need.  

In our example, a solutionised outcome could be:  

“The user need is met when the user can download an Excel file quickly.”

In this case, we have made assumptions about how users want to access the information. Excel may not be the best format for an inquiring citizen using a mobile device. By including this solution in the user need, it stops us from exploring other more user-focused ideas.

How to write content that meets users' needs

Research shows that all users want clear, accessible, jargon-free content, written in plain language. This is regardless of their level of knowledge or expertise.

Users want to be able to find the information they need as quickly as possible. In 2021, the average user on the ONS website spent two minutes on a page, with most users leaving after reading the first section of the page.

You should prioritise the most important things your users need to know by using the inverted pyramid structure

Use clear, descriptive headings and subheadings and frontload sentences and paragraphs, keeping them as short and clear as possible.

People do not usually read content unless they are looking for information, so if what you have written does not meet the user need, you can probably leave it out.

Read more in our guidance on structuring content

Ways we find out about our users

We find out about our users and their needs through:

  • metrics and analytics
  • testing content
  • interviews
  • surveys

Using these tools, we can find out:

  • how many users visit our pages
  • how they behave on and interact with the page
  • how they got to the page and where they went next
  • what search terms brought them to our page

Card sort exercises (opens in a new tab)  can also help us to understand our users’ expectations and what topics or information they find most useful. This can help to inform the structure of our content.

We have a sample of users who test our content and provide us with feedback and observations about how they found using our website. This can help us to understand what users like or find easy to use on a page, as well as what they dislike or find difficult to use.

It can also help us to identify things that may be missed or misunderstood. We can use this feedback to improve the language and design of the content to better meet the needs of users.