Introduction 2 Generating Content 3

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Contents 1

Introduction 2

Generating Content 3

Web Content Accessibility Guidance 18

Search Engine Optimisation 21

Setting up a local Healthwatch site 37

Installation 42

Operation Guide 45

Video and Audio Guidance 56

Using Social Media 69

Jargon-buster 77

Further reading 84

Appendix 1 - Website Information Architecture 85


Healthwatch England is the national champion for consumers of health and social care services throughout the country. Local Healthwatch is the champion for consumers of health and social care at a local level.

Healthwatch England has a key role in providing support and advice local Healthwatch. One of Healthwatch England’s recent initiatives was to commission a website for local Healthwatch to use.

The following pages explain everything you’ll need to know about setting up your local Healthwatch site and will help resolve common issues about how content is generated and published online. The text includes useful ‘do’s and don’ts’ as well as essential style tips; it offers clear guidance on hosting and installing a site, accessibility, search engine optimisation, using social media and working with text, images, and audio and video material. Although aimed specifically at local Healthwatch online presence, the guidelines can be adapted to most areas of content creation and delivery and will help groups to set up their own organisations.

Generating Content

Identifying your audience

The priority in developing content is to identify who your audience is and what you want to say to them. The audience for local Healthwatch sites falls into three groups:

  1. local care recipients and service users

  2. local health professionals, associations and bodies

  3. members of the public

Audience characteristics

The people who will be using local Healthwatch content will not only have different levels of knowledge about the services on offer, but also different types of experience: for example, a healthcare professional will have a different perspective from a first-time service user, or from a member of the public. Service users will also have widely varying skills with regard to computer-literacy and the Web, based on experience, training, personal circumstances and accessibility needs. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to adapt each and every segment what local Healthwatch publishes, or develop ‘personas’ for groups of users. What it does mean is that you should always keep your users in mind when writing copy or making video and audio content.

Audience requirements

Understanding the expectations and needs of your audience will drive the content you create and influence how you present the content to them. Here are some tips on developing content:

  • Perspective: imagine you are the user. Think about how their circumstances and experience will affect the way they (a) use your site, and (b) view the content and services you offer.

  • Signposting: good content is useless if the audience can’t access it. Make sure that the journey, from the homepage (or any other part of the site) to all your key content, is clear.

  • Results: think about what services or tools the audience will need. How will they communicate with you – via email or social media? Will they benefit from any surveys or questionnaires? Be as specific as possible to ensure that your content is effective.

Accessibility and usability

Accessibility and usability are the twin pillars that must support public-facing web services, especially those delivered by government, whether at national or local level, which, though closely related, are not the same thing.

Accessibility defines the level of ease with which people with additional needs – such as people with visual or hearing impairments, for example – can access the content of your site. Some users will have problems with content that is poorly planned or not easily accessible. The ‘all-in-one’ site solutions provided by Healthwatch England have taken this into account and are designed for ease of access. You can, however, get more information on this topic from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Guidelines at

Bear in mind these basic points when you’re planning content:

  • Accessing content: audio or video files will need an accompanying transcript, so keep these assets as short and as simple as possible.

  • Providing context: images, audio and video files need clear descriptions (including Alt tags).

  • Avoiding incompatible technologies: flash files are usually incompatible with accessibility requirements – don’t use them for essential content or functionality.

  • Testing: it’s crucial that your content is accessible, so if in doubt about any aspect of its usability, test it.

Usability is the measure of how easily an audience can use a site. Good usability is rarely noticed, whereas bad usability can destroy your credibility: if it’s difficult to use, the audience will leave.

There are several related factors that make some sites more ‘usable’ than others, most of which arise from the design and development process. Numerous online resources discuss this subject. The Nielsen Norman Group is a good place to start:

But always bear these points in mind:

  • Navigation: movement around the site should be simple and intuitive; don’t allow users to get ‘trapped’ in sub-sections, wondering how they got there and unable to get back to where they were.

  • Visual design: strong, clear visual design helps signpost and contextualise content and features.

  • Content design: effective content ‘design’ is defined by audience need, categorised by content type, and then organised to reflect those findings; it should not be defined by the structure of the site publisher’s filing cabinet.

  • Ease of access: content and features that are the most frequently used should be the most prominent.

  • Legibility: copy (written text) should be readable (a style issue) and legible (a design issue).

  • Functionality: site assets or tools that promise certain functions must deliver on those promises in the same way each and every time. Examples include search functions, contact forms and AV playback.

  • Consistency: functions that perform similar tasks should work in similar ways. Content of a particular type (e.g. committee reports) should be formatted and presented the same way each and every time.

Tone of voice

The term ‘tone of voice’ has a specific meaning when used in the publishing of a website or brand. Ideally it should embody the values and aims of the organisation it represents. The right tone of voice will give consistency and accurately express the character of the organisation. This can be achieved with a few phrases or keywords that sum up the ‘personality’ and intentions of the organisation. For local Healthwatch sites, it will be important to make the users feel that they are not interacting with just another government website, but are using a service that is on their side, that will help them in a professional and trustworthy manner and that will be the voice for their issues and concerns.

Defining tone of voice

To define the tone of voice it’s useful to distil (i) the site’s objectives and (ii) its users.


  • to give a voice to the users of health and social services

  • to use evidence based on real experiences to highlight issues

  • to actively seek views from all sections of the community

Conclusion: the objectives encourage the service to see itself as on the side of the user, not the government, to be active in helping them with their problems, and a trustworthy advocate for their needs and concerns.

Keywords: engaging, helpful


  • local care recipients and service users

  • local health professionals, associations and bodies

  • members of the public

Conclusion: the users are mixed and generally non-professional. To engage them will require open and honest conversation using clear, straightforward, informative language and an informal, but not an overly familiar tone.

Keywords: straightforward; informative

Local Healthwatch tone of voice

The tone of voice of local Healthwatch is defined by the following keywords:

  • engaging

  • helpful

  • straightforward

  • informative

Addressing your audience

When used properly, modes of address can help establish an appropriate tone of voice. Consider the following points in your writing:

  • Active, not passive: an active voice gives the impression of directness and action, and helps to keep your writing focused; e.g. “You can use this” as opposed to “This can be used by you”.

  • You’, not ‘we’: addressing your users directly helps to establish a clear connection with them, and can make calls-to-action more effective. Words such as ‘we’ and ‘us’ can come across as unearned familiarity, and smacks of insincere marketing.

Tone of voice and content creation

The phrases and keywords that define local Healthwatch with regard to tone of voice should be a constant echo during all aspects of content creation. Follow these points to ensure that the organisation’s tone of voice comes through:

  • Keywords: keep a copy of the keywords in a prominent place where they can be seen and checked regularly by the team and the content creators.

  • Start right: when generating new content consider which of the keywords are most suitable, then frame the work with those keywords in mind.

  • Proofreading: always proofread the finished content and compare it with the keyword(s) to make sure it fits the tone of voice.

  • Fresh eyes: ask someone else to look over the content – a fresh pair of eyes will often spot inconsistencies or jarring notes that the original creator will miss.


The style you adopt will depend, to some extent, on the tone of voice you choose, but it should always be straightforward. A good set of general-purpose style guidelines that are applicable to all governmental communications can be found at

Most users (79%, according to research by Nielsen) skim-read web pages; when they do read them they do so 25% slower than offline text, so pages of dense, unbroken text will not be user-friendly. Visual design will play a part in maintaining the user’s attention, but style is equally important. The following sections list some dos and don’ts.

Style guidelines

Following the guidelines listed below, in conjunction with the Tone of Voice recommendations, will help to ensure that your site’s content reaches its audience.

Writing style

  • Be direct: get to the point. Start paragraphs (and web pages) with the most important thing you want to say, and then add supporting or contextualising material (not the other way round).

  • Be clear: say what you mean. Don’t waffle, use euphemisms or fuzzy language. Muddy copy can be a symptom of poorly thought-through ideas.

  • Be concise: stick to one idea per paragraph, one theme to a page. Avoid long sentences and confusing tenses. If you can’t say the sentence out loud in one breath, it’s probably too long.

  • Use plain English: text should be unforced and natural, as common speech would be. If in doubt, remember that if you wouldn’t say it in conversation, don’t write it down.

  • Avoid jargon: if the audience is unlikely to be familiar with it, leave it out. Where this isn’t possible, make sure an alternative description is available (in brackets).

  • Don’t patronise: read through your copy from the user’s point of view and imagine what they’d make of it.

  • Avoid slang: this usually comes across as unearned informality and risks alienating the audience.

  • Be consistent: do the same things the same way on each and every page. Consistency helps give an underlying structure and is a significant aid to usability.

  • House style: once a method of styling content has been established, stick to it - inconsistency impacts on the style and on the tone of voice. A ‘crib sheet’ of regular style issues should be drawn up and referred to when content is being formed or edited.

  • Practice: writing copy is a skill like any other, and will be improved with practice.

Spelling and grammar

  • Acronyms: the fewer acronyms that are used the better. But be consistent in your styling when you do use them. For example, on first use give the words in full, followed by the acronym in brackets, e.g. “Health Education England (HEE)”; thereafter just give the acronym in the text.

  • Ampersands: use ‘and’ rather than ‘&’ unless as part of a proper name or title.

  • Apostrophes: ensure correct use throughout your content - they are not grammatical extras.

  • Brackets: use curved brackets (like this), not square brackets [like this]. Square brackets are only used for clarification or explanation within reported speech, e.g. a minister’s speech on Inside Government: “Thank you [Foreign Minister] Mr Smith.”

  • Capitalisation: don’t write body text in capital letters - it’s the equivalent of shouting at your audience. The first letters of proper nouns, departments and organisations (unless their branding states otherwise) are capitalised. Note that ‘government’ is an exception to this rule, and is not capitalised.

  • Contractions: these are acceptable, and a useful way to make dry material more informal.

  • E.g., etc., and i.e.: according to government guidelines, these notations should not take full stops (e.g., etc, ie) – there is no right or wrong but whatever style you choose, always be consistent.

  • Exclamation marks: best avoided, as a general rule.

  • Hyphens: do hyphenate ‘re’ + words starting with ‘e’ (e.g. re–elect), and co-ordinate; don’t hyphenate reuse, reorder, reopen, email, online.

  • Italics: don’t use italics; use ‘single quotation marks’ if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.

  • Spaces: use only 1 space after a full stop, not 2.

  • Spelling: always take time and effort to ensure there are no mistakes. Don’t just trust to spell-check – proofread all content thoroughly before it’s published and get a second pair of eyes to look over the finished content.

  • Quotes and speech marks: use single quotes in all common instances; only use double quotes for reported speech.

  • Tenses: use active rather than passive tenses where possible – this makes communication more direct.


  • Headers: simple and direct is best; active, not passive in tone. Make headers relevant to the content that follows, using key words; refer to our Search Engine Optimisation section for best practice.

  • Sub-headers: make them descriptive; sub-headers are one of the key ways to break up blocks of text, so they should clearly inform the user about the content - most users skim-read, so good sub-headers act as ‘anchor-points’ that help catch a their attention.

  • Straplines: if you’re using straplines, make sure they’re relevant to content – this is good SEO practice.

  • Pull quotes/callouts: use them to enhance the sense of what a section contains; don’t use them to repeat straplines or re-format the sub-headers.

  • Paragraphs: don’t indent paragraphs; instead, leave a blank line between each paragraph of text. On websites with short, punchy paragraphs, indentations break up the visual flow of a page.

  • Email addresses: these should be written out in full, in lowercase and always linked. Don’t include any other words as part of the link.

  • File names: develop consistent conventions for naming files (both the actual filenames and the descriptive links for those files as they appear on the site pages), and stick to them (PDF, audio, AV, etc).

  • Metadata: apply the same tone and style to all metadata and Alt tags.

  • Dates and times: consistency is the key; set a style for conveying dates and times, and stick to it, for example:

2011 to 2012, not 2011–2012.

5:30pm, not 1730hrs.

Midnight, not 00:00.

Monday to Friday, not Monday–Friday.

10 November to 21 December, not 10 November–21 December.

10am to 11am, not 10–11am.

  • Measurements: use Celsius, not Fahrenheit, and metric rather than imperial weights and measurements. Representation should be as for other acronyms.

  • Numbers (again, consistency is the watchword):

Represent numbers as numerals, not words.

For numbers over 999, use commas (e.g. 2,400).

For fractions use the % symbol (unless the fraction is common, e.g. ‘one half’).

For money, use the £ symbol; don’t decimalise unnecessarily

(e.g. £127, not £127.00; but £127.35).

  • Telephone numbers: use ‘Telephone: 011 111 111’ or ‘Mobile:’ not ‘Mob:’.

  • Updates: keep content current, especially news; ensure that sufficient resources exist to maintain regularly changing parts of the site; users will notice stagnation.

  • Short run times: be sparing with the length of audio or AV files – try to keep these to less than 5 minutes. Anything over this should probably be divided into separate ‘chapters’.

Sins of governmental communication

Anyone who works for or has contact with government services will know that governmental communication can be difficult to decipher.

Styles to avoid

  • Newspeak: try to avoid terms that are likely to be unfamiliar to the user, such as buzzwords and acronyms, which are closely related to ‘brandspeak’, and ‘marketspeak’. These will accentuate the differences between the content creators and the audience, and result in alienation.

  • Lack of clarity: get to the point as soon as possible; focus on what you’re trying to communicate, and to whom. Articles and site pages are often full of waffle that obscures the main points. Editing down content to ensure it’s effective and relevant takes time, but is worth the effort.

Words to avoid

This section was drawn from the government ‘design principles’ site - users of government services will be familiar with most of these. Make sure your users don’t use these words (

  • agenda (unless it’s for a meeting)

  • advancing

  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)

  • combating

  • countering

  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)

  • dialogue (we speak to people)

  • disincentivise

  • drive out (unless it’s cattle)

  • empower

  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you’re helping)

  • focusing

  • foster (unless it’s children)

  • impact (as a verb)

  • initiate

  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)

  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)

  • liaise

  • overarching

  • promote (unless you’re talking about an ad campaign or something)

  • robust

  • slimming down (weight-loss is slimming down; everything else is probably removing x amount of paperwork etc)

  • streamline

  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)

  • tackling (unless it’s rugby, football, some other sport)

  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it)

  • utilize

What not to say

Some words and issues should be avoided because they may cause offence or be misinterpreted. These include:

  • swearing

  • racial epithets or categorisations

  • sexually explicit material

  • religious comment

  • sexist comment (aim for gender-neutral tone and content)

  • homophobic comment

  • political comment (this doesn’t mean you should pretend politics doesn’t exist but that material with a political slant should be presented as neutrally as possible, without bias)

Social media

Broadly speaking, social media encompasses those functions or areas of the Internet that encourage users to make and share content, such as Facebook, twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Digg, LinkedIn, and Flickr, as well as blogs, website comment sections, and a host of other tools, either in stand-alone sites or as built-in features of traditional top-down content providers. For detailed guidance on using social media, see our section on Using Social Media.

Key points

These are the key points to remember when developing content for local Healthwatch sites.

The users:

  • remember your audience

  • everything you do must be accessible by all

  • your content must be easy to use

The tone of voice:

  • be open and engaging

  • be straightforward

  • be helpful and informative

  • don’t patronise

The style:

  • be direct

  • be clear

  • don’t waffle

Useful resources

The sites below take a more detailed look at the processes and practices discussed in this section.


Web Accessibility Initiative (a part of W3C, the Worldwide Web Consortium):

RNIB Web Access Centre:

BBC accessibility guidelines:

BBC public accessibility pages:


Nielsen Norman Group:

Usability First (user-centred design methods):

Tone and style

UK government design principles:

UK government style guide:

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