They say writing is a solitary activity. Whoever ‘they’ are.
Sometimes it is. There are plenty of lonesome desks where people tap away in isolation.
But sometimes it isn’t, and our website is one of those times. We’re writing for a varied audience facing difficult situations. If we work alone, we can’t be sure that what we’re making is right, let alone helpful.
So we don’t just take a bit of paper and wait for the muse to come to us. We research, we test, we critique and we rewrite until we’re confident we’ve made something that works.
Here’s how we do it.
The need for needs
Whether we’re covering sick pay, post, Disability Living Allowance or one of dozens of other topics, we start in the same place: user need.
What makes people come to our website? What problems do they need to solve? What information do they need to understand? Will words be enough, or do we need something more interactive, like our benefit checker?
We answer questions like these with research. We talk to advisers, subject experts and the public. We read the records from Citizens Advice offices. We study the data for our existing webpages to find out what parts of the site people visit and spend time reading. We look at search keywords both on our site and across Google.
The write time
Armed with the research, we write. Oddly, this can be the quickest part. That’s why we think of ourselves as ‘content designers’ rather than ‘writers’ – if all it took was writing, it would take no time.
Edit and edit again
Another thing the mysterious ‘they’ say: writing is rewriting. This one we agree with wholeheartedly.
We take every page through several rounds of refinements. First, a group discussion – we call this a ‘crit’ . Then a more detailed study by experienced editors, making sure the structure is logical and the style matches the rest of the site.
But we don’t just talk among ourselves. We also test our work with the public and the advisers who work at Citizens Advice – the people who’ll be using the pages once they’re finished. Because if they don’t understand it, well, what’s the point?
After the public testing, a sneak preview for advisers who work for the Citizens Advice service. Two weeks where they can read the pages, use them with the public and make sure they work in practice.
Then a crucial final step: making sure it’s true. We run the content past our legal specialists, and past colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland, to make sure the advice is accurate across the UK. We’ll have been working with them throughout the process, but a final check is always worthwhile. Readable writing isn’t much help if it’s wrong.
Pulling back the curtain
Then, at last, we put the pages online.
But that isn’t the end. Releasing words into the wild is no different from releasing rare animals – you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re okay.
We watch the data. How many visitors are we getting? What searches are leading them to us? How long are they staying and what do they do next? What feedback are they sending us?
And that’s it –
– no, wait. There’s one more step. One last thing we do once we’ve raised the content, made it strong and sent it out into the world to find its fortune.
We blog about it, of course.