Static advice content helps people understand what they need to do. Learn how to make it useful.
This resource is for:
- digital, website or communication leads who need to plan, edit and publish, static advice content for the charity they support
- subject specialists or frontline support workers who want their charity to provide more information or advice online.
- What we mean by static advice content
- How to decide whether it’s a good idea for you to produce it
- Tips on how to make it useful, when you don’t have a lot of time.
1. Static advice content - what do we mean?
Many organisations want to help the people they support solve problems themselves. A common way to do this is by producing collections of web pages known as static advice content.
The “static” part of the description is because these are pages designed to be useful for some time. They’re not the same as a blog.
2. Deciding whether to create your own
Not everyone needs to.
Explore what already exists
Search for the topics you want to write about. When you find a web page that covers your topic, ask yourself if:
- the people you support would trust this organisation?
- the organisation is aligned with your values?
- the page’s content covers the nuances of the topic you want to highlight?
- the page uses the kind of language the people you support use or easily understand?
If you can answer yes to all of these, then consider signposting to the page you found.
Find out how the people you support get advice
Ask 5-7 people who use your services: “Have you looked up anything you needed to know online in the last 6 months?”
Follow up with “can you tell me if it was helpful or unhelpful and how?”
If they describe looking at web pages (not video or social media) then they might use a page that you create.
3. Making sure content is useful
Bring two types of expertise together
- Subject specialist - providing the information you need to share.
- Content design - editing the information to make it usable online
If possible, involve two people - one taking responsibility for each of these elements.
There are two main ways to do this.
- You make time to write together. This is a technique called pair writing. Learn more about pair writing.
- The subject specialist makes a list of the key information to get across. Then the person focused on content design turns that into a version that is easy to read on the web. Both people should read the rest of the advice on this page before you start.
Agree what each page is trying to do before you start
Together ask what:
- the person who came to this page is trying to find out
- they need to know to be ready to take the next step
- the next step they should take is.
Write your answers out. Then prioritise which things they need to know most. This will help you keep the page short.
One way is to write your answers as user needs - here’s our advice on writing user needs.
Write the pages for people who skim read
"People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences."
Norman Nielsen (supported by research in 1997, 2004, 2008 etc)
There are some simple rules to follow to make sure the content you create is easy to skim. Use:
- headers and sub-headers that make sense
- short sentences and paragraphs
- bullet point lists
- direct language (“do this”, not “this should be done”)
- relevant links. Group them at the end of sections. Don’t link to things mid paragraph.
This is the basis of all good content design for the web. You can learn more in our ten tips article.
Use a readability checker
There are many apps that will help you check the readability of your work.
They will help you:
- make the site more accessible to people who find English difficult
- improve how search engines view your site (because they score for accessibility)
- make it possible for everyone to get information faster from your pages
- support people in states of distress who might have difficulty processing complex things.
The level to aim for should be one that matches the reading skills of your users. Most tools use a system that refers to American school years. Accessibility standards state that content should be at the “lower secondary" level (usually around 7-9 on these apps). If you know you want to support a lot of people with English as a second language, or who may be coming to your site in distress you may want to aim even lower.
We recommend the free Hemmingway app.
Help people trust you
People need to trust your organisation before they will follow your advice. How to win that trust depends on the people you support.
Some things that help:
- using language your users use
- linking only to other sites that they know or that feel similar to yours
- plenty of white space on the page so it doesn’t feel crowded or cluttered
- images placed consistently so that they are not distracting. Make sure they reflect the diversity of people you support and use alt-text to make them more accessible. (Learn how to write alt-text)
- short examples of how people followed your advice - this helps people feel like you understand their challenges
- a tone that suits the people you support.
Get the tone right
People will often say similar things about the tone of advice. They want it to be:
- written for people like me.
You also need to match the tone of your information to the specific needs of the people you support.
Here are some examples from Neontribe’s work.
1. Working with charity Place2Be, we tested advice with parents.
We found our draft was:
- too authoritative - some parents felt shame
- too unrealistic - parents felt it didn’t recognise their challenges.
The final content focuses on:
- using phrases that acknowledge how hard things can be
- referring to both “you” and “us” to give a sense of solidarity
- using phrases like “try this” not “you should do this”.
2. Working with Surviving Economic Abuse we tested advice with survivors.
We found they needed reassurance and support before they could process factual information.
Our final version:
- changed the order of our pages - offering women’s stories before a definition of Economic Abuse.
- opened their advice collection with the phrase “You are not alone.”
3. Working with NCVO and partners on safeguarding advice we tested content with small organisations new to safeguarding policy.
We found that their staff and volunteers wanted certainty. We learnt:
- paragraphs saying they “could” do this or they “may choose to do that” were unhelpful.
- lists that said choose from: x, y and z were reassuring.
- short examples that showed a decision an organisation made about how to implement something, helped the reader understand how to make their own choices
When you are thinking about tone it is good to also think about the language you use and its role in maintaining structures of oppression. Read our article about why anti-oppressive content is needed.
Test the content with the people who need it
In the examples above, we learned what our users needed by testing draft content with them. If you have been producing leaflets for years, it can seem like overkill to test your advice just because you have rewritten it for the internet. But it really is worth it.
Some content testing techniques you can try.
Other things to consider
This page has offered a digital design thinking approach to creating web pages that help people solve problems. If you’d like to know more about what Catalyst means by digital and where design thinking fits in, look at our 9 definitions of digital article.
Content patterns can help you create multiple pages that are consistent and easy for people to follow. NCVO created a Guide to how to create a content pattern to write with.