Why we have publishing standards
We have a legal obligation to ensure information can be accessed by everyone. All Victorian Government entities must comply with the accessibility standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. These standards apply to internal and external content.
Make content accessible
Content is not just web copy, it also refers to all digital content such as documents, tables, videos and images.
Language and readability
Readability is how easy it is for users to read your content. Users are also generally time poor so the more readable your content is the more likely they are to read it.
Follow the Australian Government Style Manual which is the standard for everyone who writes, edits or approves Australian Government content. To find out more, visit Australian Government Style Manual.
Your content must meet Hemingway grade 8 standards, to help with readability please use the Hemingway App.
Remember to use inclusive language, for example, gender-neutral and person-first language. For more information about inclusive language refer to the Australian Government Style Manual.
Links need to describe where you’re taking the user. Make sure they make sense when read in isolation – don’t use ‘click here’ and ‘read more’. This applies to in-text and standalone links. Read the Australian Government Style Manual on hyperlinks.
Use of documents
HTML (web copy) is the default format for government information. Documents are less effective than web pages. Web pages are more responsive, accessible, better for search and easier to update. If there is a strong user need to have a document, for example, a poster for printing, the document must meet accessibility standards. If you must create a PDF, it needs to be accompanied by another accessible format, such as MS Word.
We will only use images if it helps the user, or example if they make it easier for some users to understand information. Do not use decorative images, they offer no value to the user. Never use images of text as this not accessible. All images must have alternative text. Use of these will need to be approved by the Channels Manager.
Complex images and infographics
It’s difficult to make complex images accessible. Infographics are a challenge not only for individuals with visual impairments, but also for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Complex designs can be difficult to follow or distracting. Use of these will need to be approved by the Channels Manager.
Video and other multimedia
A transcript is an alternative text version of audio material. Always provide a script or transcript for all audio and video files.
For practical instructions on optimising accessibility, refer to Digital training for Victorian public servants.
Find out more about accessibility organisations and resources.
Structure your content
Check if the content already exists
Check if the topic you’re writing about already exists on our website or an external site. This will help make sure we are not duplicating information.
Think about the users’ needs
Often the temptation is to write for the authority or to think about yourself as a user. This does not benefit your users.
Before you start writing your content always ask the question: What does the user need to know?
To meet user needs, your content needs to be:
- clear and to the point.
If you have more than one audience (for example business owners and general public), identify what each audience needs to know and write a different version of the content for each of them.
Put the most important information first
The way we read content on online is very different from how we read print. Users scan a web page to find what they are looking for. This means that writing for the web is different from writing for print.
Only 25% of users scroll down a page so the most important information must go first. This is the information that answers user needs.
It may include:
- an action the user needs to do
- information that helps them with a task or their job.
Add content down the page in descending order of importance. This is where you include any mandated information, followed by background information, like legislation, history or funding.
Putting information in order of importance is known as the "inverted pyramid" and is the best practice when writing for the web.
It's best to plan out the heading structure before writing your content.
Headings are important because they allow users to find, read, and understand the information on a page. When people scan your page they'll look at headings first to decide whether they'll read the content or not.
They're also essential for users who are blind or have low vision may rely on a screen reader. Screen reader users can navigate a page using the headings, listen to a list of all headings, and skip to a section they need.
- describe actions or tasks
- be brief and meaningful, not generic. Never use the name of a program.
- describe what a section or paragraph is about
- use words that your audience uses
- include keywords that users will search for. This means it’s more likely to appear in search engines such as Google or internal search
- never use questions or gerunds. For example, instead of using, “How do I apply for funding?” or “Applying for funding” use "Apply for funding".
Heading hierarchy provides page structure for both sighted and non-sighted-users. Headings must be in logical order.
The different levels of headings are from heading one (H1) to heading six (H6). H1 is always the page title. A page can only have one H1.
The subheadings from H2-H6 are sequential for example, a H3 follows a H2, a H4 follows a H3. A page can have multiple subheadings as long as the heading hierarchy is maintained.
Never skip heading levels, for example going from H2 to H4. Screen reader users may navigate using a list of headings. An incorrect or missing heading can make navigation confusing and means the user may not get the information they need.
Do not overuse headings. We strongly encourage not going below a H4 . If you think you need to, it most likely means there is too much content for one page.
Do not link headings
Headings should not be links. Rework your content to put the link in the copy that follows the heading.
Do not use bold for a heading
Never use bold instead of structured heading. This is not accessible as a screen reader will not recognise it as a heading and the user cannot navigate the page properly.
When you're using Microsoft Word to draft your content, use the ‘styles’ section to find each heading style. Use this section to make sure your content is properly formatted.
Do not use frequently asked questions (FAQs)
If you write your content to meet user needs, you will not need FAQs. If a question is asked frequently, it means you need that content on your web page.
We do not publish FAQs because they:
- duplicate content
- are not front loaded with keywords, making them hard to scan
- content is not where people expect to find it; it needs to be in context
- are harder for search engines to crawl.
Read more about why we should not use FAQs.
Reviewed 16 August 2022