- publishing standalone government documents - they are date-stamped and usually not updated once published
- white papers, strategy documents and reports
Do not create a publication:
- when you should be adding an attachment to another content format; for example meeting minutes and agendas
- for meeting minutes (these should be attached directly to the relevant policy advisory group or governance page)
- for videos (these should be embedded directly in the content they relate to – usually a news story or press release)
Creating a new publication
Find out how to create and update a publication in Whitehall publisher.
Writing and formatting requirements for publications
All content should follow the GDS style guide and Writing for GOV.UK guidelines. Read these to find out how to write your title, summary and body copy.
There are some additional considerations you need to think about when writing a publication.
Publication pages should be short and straightforward. Their purpose is to help the user find the publication that matches their needs as quickly as possible.
Users need to know whether they should open the document and if the information within meets their needs.
- search and SEO (ie include relevant keywords and phrases that users are searching for)
- providing clear, concise information about what a publication is (so users can tell at a glance whether it will tell them what they need to know)
- context (government often publishes lots of documents which look superficially similar – how will you help the user to find the right one?)
- summarise what the document says (you’re just repeating what’s in the document)
- include general information about the topic covered by the publication (this is not the place for it)
Look at the purpose of the document rather than the format. For example – classifying a publication as ‘guidance’ is generally more helpful to users than telling them that the guidance happens to be in the form of a letter.
You should publish in HTML wherever possible. HTML is the most accessible format on mobile devices and for assistive technology because:
- text automatically fits the page width as a user zooms in (it ‘reflows’)
- markdown ensures that elements are tagged correctly for screen readers
- users can change the colours they use on GOV.UK
If your document is designed to be read but not edited or interacted with (read only), publish in HTML.
As well as static content you can use HTML for living, evolving documents that get updated. It is much easier to maintain one version of a publication in HTML than multiple versions in different formats.
Your HTML publication will have a publication date and you can give it a reference number or ISBN number.
Example of good HTML
View a good example of an HTML publication.
If you cannot publish in HTML, you must publish your documents in open formats.
You must provide an email address in the details for users to request an alternative version of a document. You can do this by leaving the ‘Attachment is accessible’ box unticked for all documents you upload. Even if you publish accessible versions, some users will need formats like British Sign Language (BSL), audio or braille.
If you publish a PDF or other non-HTML format, you must also publish an accessible version of your document. If you do not publish one, you may be breaking the law.
Forms and editable documents
If users need to provide information or edit an attachment, for example complete a form, you should:
- create the document in Word, Excel or PowerPoint
- convert to an OpenDocument
- publish your OpenDocument
Alongside your OpenDocument, publish the form in at least one other format. Whichever other format you choose, you must make it as accessible as possible.
You must not publish PDFs on GOV.UK in most circumstances. There are some instances when you can publish a PDF. If these circumstances mean you do publish a PDF, you must publish an accessible version with it.
PDFs are not as accessible as HTML or OpenDocuments. For example, they do not allow users to change the colour of the background to meet their needs.
They are also more difficult to magnify because users will have to scroll horizontally and vertically. Text does not reflow to the width of the screen as it gets bigger like in HTML.
If you need to publish a PDF, you must format it to meet both the:
Titles do not have to reflect the official publication title. Keep them short and search- and user-friendly.
Front-load all titles – get all the most important words at the front of the sentence.
Good example: ‘Income Tax reform: impact assessment’
Bad example: ‘An assessment of the impact of proposed reforms to Income Tax’
You can mention the report title etc in the summary or page copy if you think users will search for that term.
Good example: ‘Improving government online services’
Bad example: ‘The Varney report’
For transparency titles:
‘DfT special advisers: gifts and hospitality received, 13 May to 31 July 2020’
Note: use acronyms, colons and truncated dates.
Give a short summary (up to 160 characters) and end with a full stop.
The body of a publication page provides a description of the publication in plain, neutral language, to reassure the user that it is (or is not) what they’re looking for. Include what the publication is about and its purpose. Publications often outlive governments so keep the language politically neutral.
Include links to related publications but use collections to group them if more than a few.
‘These reports describe the effect of government proposals to reduce the amount of money spent on legal aid. The aim of the reforms is to make sure legal aid is still available for support and representation in cases where it is justified.’
Use the official title of the document.
You should only add multiple attachments to a publication page if the attachments are:
- forms and it’s a guidance page
- chapters of one document
- versions of the same document, for example an interim report and a final report
Use the translations feature if you need to add a different language version of the same document.
It’s fine to have multiple attachments on a consultation page.