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Content clinic 10 November: what we talked about

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The Defra content team held its first content clinic on a slack channel  with editors from Natural England, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Rural Payments Agency, Environment Agency and Defra.


Can we use H4s in detailed guides? No - if you’re struggling to design content using the two levels of subheadings - H2s (section headings) and H3s (subheadings in a section) - then you need to think about redesigning your content so its navigation is simpler.

Using 4 heading levels suggests that your content is too complex and may be trying to do too many things. It’s hard for users to understand where they are in the content when you use a lot of heading levels.

Structuring content

One way of redesigning content to make it simpler is separating it under subheadings. We gave the bluetongue guidance as a good example of using subheadings to break up  a complex table into simple sections. This solution works equally well with long bullet lists and big chunks of text.

Bullet points

Bullet lists in bullet lists are allowed but we advised content designers to avoid using them. They’re usually a sign that the content is too complex or you’re trying to do too many things with one piece of content. We advised content designers to think about using another option, such as breaking up content under subheadings.

PDF acceptable usage

Content designers weren’t sure when they could publish PDFs instead of HTML publications. HTML should be the default format for publications across the Defra group rather than PDFs. But we may publish PDFs as guidance content in these circumstances:

  • if it contains a lot of formulas, maps, charts, graphs
  • to carry out a minor update (for example, fix typos or change dates) to existing PDFs - content designers in agencies must check with the Defra content team for larger updates to content that’s already published on GOV.UK as a PDF
  • as a temporary publication that will become guidance, but there isn’t a subject-matter expert available to work on it - you must agree a deadline for writing the guidance


A lot of the Defra group’s guidance points users to the Magic map. This is often capitalised because it’s an acronym (Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside), but we must be consistent. Text in all capitals is difficult to read and even one capitalised word can be a visual speed bump, so Magic map should be in sentence case.

There are a number of well-known acronyms that are lower case, such as radar (radio detection and ranging) and quango (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation), so grammatically this is fine.

Future clinics

You can join the Defra digital slack channel if you have a Defra or agency email address. We’ll announce December’s content clinic on that channel.

Creative Commons Attribution: What by Véronique Debord-Lazaro is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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