Civil Service blogs: the user guide
This guide explains the minimum criteria for writing, editing and publishing blog posts on the Civil Service blogging platform, and should be read alongside GDS' good blogging practices.
Why blog? Blogs are available to help provide information that normally falls outside of the publishing criteria on the GOV.UK platform. While not providing official government guidance, it is important to remember the following things about blogs:
- they are official government communications
- they are still subject to GOV.UK style rules
All posts must have the following elements:
- user need
- inline links
- category / tags
- relevant links
In the context of Civil Service blogs, user need means 2 things:
- what is the corporate objective of the blog?
- what will a reader get out of this post?
The first point sets a clear objective which provides focus for each post. For example, the Civil Service blog has three main content themes:
- the vision of 'A Brilliant Civil Service' and one or more of its four supporting pillars: Improved outcomes; Effective leaders; Skilled people; A great place to work
- improving the reputation of the Civil Service
- supporting cross-Civil Service teams
Before you commission, edit or publish a post, do a sanity check. Think:
- does it support the blog's corporate objective?
- does it have a clear message or call to action for the reader?
- does it easily fit into one of our blog categories? (at present this effectively means the vision and its pillars)
If it doesn't tick any of these content boxes, discuss it with your team before going any further and consider whether the content can be re-written.
Titles: 70 characters-ish and no puns
Titles aren't as difficult as you think.
You're not writing for a newspaper but a government website so steer clear of puns and write clear titles that explain what the post is all about.
Clear titles are easier to understand, easier to search for on the internet and look better on the page. Always think, why would I read this post?
Where you can be clever is to pull out interesting snippets from the post to include in the title, or use numbers to give a clear reason for reading. For example:
- 5 tips for surviving mid-year reviews
- Why commercial matters
- The Department of Health’s 6 commitments to increase management skills
Titles should be written as if they were a sentence.
Images are essential for each post. GDS have image advice on both the blog user guide and a separate blog on choosing the right image for homepages. Current guidance allows for only one image per blog post, which should appear at the top of the post.
Images on all Civil Service blogs must:
- be 620 x 413 pixels at upload
- clear and in focus
- explain to the reader what the post is about or illustrate its content in a helpful way
Do not use:
- abstract images
- stretched images
- or overlay text on images – exceptions are infographics
Finding images is difficult and in most cases we request authors to supply 2 images in as large a format as possible: a generic headshot for use in the blog post itself, and a more specific image of the subject matter for the homepage.
Good examples include people in a meeting, screenshots of a project, or people engaged with the subject matter. Failing that a good fallback is to get them to supply a picture of their building and/or department sign. Above all, images must clearly explain to the reader what the post is about.
We also have a growing bank of images which can be used on the Civil Service Flickr account. Please make authors aware we will add their images to this image bank for others to use.
GDS recommend also using images uploaded to Flickr under creative commons licenses.
To do this use the search box to look for a specific term, try ‘Carp Fishing’. This will bring up all the images tagged ‘carp fishing’.
Immediately above the images are 3 further search filters: In the ‘license’ menu select ‘Creative Commons Only’.
This will refresh the screen with all the images that have been cleared for non-commercial use by others. Once you’ve chosen your image, download it and use it in the blog.
You must attribute the photographer. In the blog post link the image to the Flickr page it came from, and add the following line either immediately beneath the image using the caption feature in word press, or at the bottom of the blog post:
[Photo above by John Smith on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.]
There are several free online editing tools, we recommend Photopea, as it is fairly easy to use.
Excerpts give you a bit more space on the homepage to explain what the post is about. They appear below the image and are automatically created from the opening paragraph of the post, usually ending in an ellipses...
You have to turn on the excerpt feature in WordPress before you can use, but once on the box will appear on every post, towards the bottom of the page.
Excerpts must be no longer than 2 sentences, and ideally you should be able to use them as a basis for a tweet - 140 characters. Again, no puns, poems or gags – be as clear and concise as possible.
Posts should usually be no more than 600 words and written in plain English.
Write how you speak. And always write as an individual – not as an organisation, or a team.
Use plain English. Government jargon is an instant turnoff for blog users, and will get in the way of your communication (see words to avoid).
Follow the GOV.UK points of style for acronyms, abbreviations, spelling, capitalisation, dates etc.
And of course follow the basic rules of writing for the web – short sentences, 1 idea per paragraph and subheads to help users scan the text.
Use Hemmingway to see just how clear your text is, and aim for a level of Grade 10 or below.
Do not sign off with your name, as it appears in the author slot, but you can add a link to your Twitter handle if you have one: 'Follow ANOther on twitter using @ANOther'
End each post with a call to action, e.g.:
- see further information on the topic of the blog post
- sign up for training
- join a staff network
- join the conversation on Twitter
- sign up for email alerts
- comment below the line
Always use the 'Relevant posts' widget to add 3 relevant links for each article.
Write all numbers as numerals as per the GOV.UK style guide. Ordinals remain as words for example 'first', 'second' etc.