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The rules for structure

Break content into chunks

Break content into short, easily digestible chunks. Each chunk is a short paragraph – no more than 5 lines long. Each chunk starts with a subtitle.

Why chunk content

It can be difficult to deliver a clear message when your paragraphs are very long.

People can’t find the key point of your argument.

Use headings

Headings add space to the page and space invites the reader in. They also help your reader quickly find what they want.

Use lists

Lists achieve the same goal as headings when they are structured properly. This means the list items are parallel and you use correct punctuation.

Long paragraphs are hard to read

It can be difficult to deliver a clear message when your paragraphs are very long. People might not be able to find the key point of your argument among all the words and you might include more text. Headings can help you break up your text, adding space to the page and inviting the reader in, and they also help your reader quickly find what they want. Lists also achieve the same goal when they are structured properly with parallel construction and correct punctuation.

Page titles (h1)

Think about how the title will look in search on HSE.ie and on search engines. Use the words people will use when they search.

Titles must be:

  • 65 characters or less (including spaces)
  • unique, so search results don’t show lots of pages with the same title
  • clear and descriptive
  • front-loaded (most important information first) – use colons if you need to
  • active – start with a verb if you can

Good:

  • Check your payslips online
  • Fostering: advice for families

Bad:

  • Online payslips
  • Advice for families about fostering

Subheadings (subtitles)

Use a subheading every 3 to 5 paragraphs.

Subheadings should:

  • be concise (not more than 5 words)
  • be front-loaded (most important words first)
  • not ask questions - these are hard to scan
  • use the same words people used in search (keywords)
  • be descriptive and clear

Don’t go below H4

Try to keep to 2 layers of headings - H2 and H3. You may need to use H4 for clinical content but try to only use H4 when absolutely necessary. 

Good:

Chickenpox symptoms

Bad:

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Bulleted lists

Use bullet points to make text easier to read. 

Use only one sentence per bullet. If it doesn’t work as one sentence, use paragraph text instead.

Do

  • make bullets short – one sentence only
  • start bullets with the same part of speech (like a noun or verb)

Don’t

  • use more than 2 or 3 bulleted lists per page
  • use sub-bullets
  • start all bullets with the same word 

If you find that all the bullets start with the same word, build this into the lead-in sentence instead. 

The use of ‘and’ and ‘or’ in bulleted lists

Do not put ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a bullet unless it is to differentiate two or more separate points.

Example:

To get PrEP for free, you need to be having sex without condoms with HIV-positive partners who are:

  • not on HIV treatment, or
  • on treatment but not virally suppressed (do not have an 'undetectable' viral load)

Bullets with a lead-in sentence

The bullets must make grammatical sense following on from the lead-in sentence. 

Don’t use any full stops.

Use lower-case at the start of the bullet, unless the first word in the bullet is the name of a place that is usually capitalised. 

Examples:

People like bullets because they:

  • are easy to read
  •  grab attention
  • signpost what a page is about

When to call an ambulance

Call 112 or 999 for an ambulance if:

  • the burn or scald is above the neck
  • your child has difficulty breathing
  • your child is unresponsive

Separate lead-in sentence from paragraph 

If your lead-in sentence is part of a paragraph, separate the lead-in sentence from the rest of the paragraph.

Example:

Good

We offer this over the phone or face-to-face at smoking cessation clinics - it’s free. A trained advisor will support you through the quitting process. 

The advisor will help you by:

  • making sure you’re ready to quit
  • asking you about your smoking history and habit
  • assessing your nicotine addiction

Bad

We offer this over the phone or face-to-face at smoking cessation clinics - it’s free. A trained advisor will support you through the quitting process. The advisor will help you by:

  • making sure you’re ready to quit
  • asking you about your smoking history and habit
  • assessing your nicotine addiction 

Bullets with a title

The second way to display bulleted lists is with a title rather than a lead-in sentence.

Start with a capital and end with a full stop. Use only 1 sentence per bullet. 

Keep them short – only a few words. Don’t just add bullet points at the beginning of a bunch of sentences – craft them.

Do not repeat title text if your bullet title comes directly after a H2 or H3 header. Reword one title so that it gives different information.

Examples:

Good

Swine flu in Ireland 

Cases of swine flu in 2017

  • There were 12,000 reported cases of swine flu in 2017.
  • Of these, 5,000 people were hospitalised.
  • None of the people who got swine flu had been immunised.

Bad

Cases of swine flu in 2017

Cases of swine flu in 2017

  • There were 12,000 reported cases of swine flu in 2017.
  • Of these, 5,000 people were hospitalised.
  • None of the people who got swine flu had been immunised.

Good 

Tips for encouraging activity in children

  • Get active yourself - children learn through example and are 5 times more likely to be active if their parents are.
  • Choose the right activities for your child's age - if you don't, your child might become bored or frustrated.
  • Keep the focus on fun - children don't want to do something they don't enjoy.
  • Play active games with your children - such as ball games, skipping, running games.

Numbered lists (steps)

Only use numbered lists for sequential steps. If steps are not sequential, use a bulleted list instead.

Make each item in the list a grammatically correct sentence.

Example:

  1. Fill in the form.
  2. Print and sign the form.
  3. Post the form to [address].

Links

Make links active, specific and concise. Links should describe where they're taking the user. Where you can, use the same words as the title of the page you're linking to. That way, the user will know what to expect.

Write descriptive link text.  We do not use link text such as ‘click here’, ‘more’ or anything that does not make sense when read out of context. Screen readers can move between links without reading the surrounding content.

Good examples of link text:

  • Download the medical card application form
  • Go to accounts
  • Apply for help with nursing home costs
  • Symptoms of asthma
  • More about asthma

Bad examples of link text:

  • Click here for the form you need
  • Accounts
  • About Fair Deal
  • Symptoms
  • More information

External links

Be as descriptive as possible with external links.  

For example: Apply for illness benefit - Welfare.ie

Avoid using links or buttons that open new windows or tabs.

There are 2 exceptions to this:

  • for instructions or other help with filling in a form (for example, a date picker)
  • if a user has logged into a secure site and the link would take them away from it

Links to PDFs will always open in a new tab. 

Links and full stops

 Don’t include punctuation in links. 

Example: 

Read about how to qualify for the CBD scheme

 If the link is part of a sentence in running copy, end with a full stop. But don’t hyperlink the full stop. 

Example:

If you are having healthcare that involves an overnight stay in hospital, you can apply for prior authorisation before you go abroad.

Links in contact details

Hyperlink email addresses, websites and phone numbers.

Example:

BreastCheck Central Office,

King's Inns House,

200 Parnell Street, Dublin 1

Freephone: 1800 45 45 55

Phone: 041 685 0300

www.breastcheck.ie

info@breastcheck.ie

Contact details

Format the name of the service in bold. This applies whether it stands alone or is part of a list.

Postal address

When referring to a county in an address, use the abbreviation 'Co.' For example: Co. Clare.

If the service is located in a town or city with the same name as the county, you do not need to include the name of the county in the address. For example: An address in Kilkenny city would just end 'Dublin Road, Kilkenny'. But in Thomastown, it would end 'Dublin Road, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny.’

Eircodes

Eircodes should be used wherever possible.

Example:

HSE Services,

St Canice’s Hospital, 

Dublin Road, 

Kilkenny

R95 P231

Dublin postcodes

When using a Dublin postcode, use the relevant postcode (Dublin 8) without saying ‘Co. Dublin’ afterwards.

Example:

St. James's Hospital,

James's St,

Dublin 8

D08 W9RT

The exception to this is where the Dublin address doesn’t have a Dublin postcode such as Swords and Dun Laoghaire.

Example:

Saint Michael’s Hospital,

George’s Street Lower

Dun Laoghaire

Co. Dublin

A96 TN26  

Phone numbers

Do write out ‘freephone’ and ‘phone’ to clarify the difference.

Format phone numbers in bold.

Include area code, then three numbers, then four numbers. This number structure is better for accessibility.

Freephone: 1800 45 45 45

Phone: 041 685 0300

Provide an alternative landline or mobile phone contact rather a LoCall number. LoCall numbers begin with 1890, 1850 or 076.

Don’t write out the words ‘email address’ or ‘website’.

Example:

www.breastcheck.ie

info@breastcheck.ie

Hyperlinking

Always hyperlink phone numbers, email addresses and websites.