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Researching and writing

Find out how we write our information. 

Deciding which information to produce

We have robust processes to identify and prioritise subjects for new information. These are outlined in the Cancer Research UK health and patient information editorial policy. 

Researching the information

Before writing, we carry out a comprehensive literature search. The editorial policy has a section on researching information that outlines the sources we consult before writing any clinical section. It has a helpful checklist of sources.

We focus on UK or European medical information sources and guidelines because practice can differ between countries. We also look at other general and site specific cancer websites.

Writing the information

Before starting to write, the writer discusses the content with a senior member of the team including:

  • what should be included
  • how to structure it: for example whether it should be a section, a page, or added to one of the current pages.

Cancer type sections conform to a basic layout. The ordering of information within this layout varies according to the cancer type being covered. Sections are created using the content model. For examples of a section structure, compare the specific cancer sections on site.

There are templates for many of the pages included in cancer type sections. The templates often need to be adapted to make them appropriate for the cancer type. We can clone existing pages if the content is similar enough to the page that we need to produce.

The layout of a section is common to most cancer types. We have developed these areas based on user testing and user feedback. 

Main navigation page: each cancer type has a main navigation page with a link at the top to a page about the specific cancer type. Below this is boxes that contain links to the following information:

Risks and causes for that cancer type

Symptoms

Screening (include this even if there is no screening programme but explain why there is no screening)

Types (including sub-types)

Stages (and grading where appropriate)

Survival – we have separate guidelines for writing survival pages inhouse

Getting diagnosed: has pages on Seeing your GP/Seeing a specialist/Tests to diagnose and stage of the cancer (where appropriate)

Treatment: varies according to the treatments for that cancer type but include as appropriate – surgery/chemotherapy/radiotherapy/targeted cancer drugs/follow up after treatment

Research and clinical trials: this covers all patient research, not just the work of Cancer Research UK. It doesn’t cover treatments in animal or laboratory research.

Living with cancer: contains an overview page on coping that details the general and specific issues for that cancer type. It has links to more detailed information pages (for example, life after surgery or bone marrow transplant; diet after treatment for gastrointestinal cancers, or effects on sex life).

This section contains a page with resources and organisations, general and specific to the cancer type. Include suppliers of equipment if relevant and link to other websites where necessary. All sites we link to must be reputable and produce reliable, quality information that is regularly updated. Links are approved on an individual basis in accordance with the health and patient information team editorial policy.

We create content as a word document and versions are tracked in SharePoint.

We can use a template from the CMS template library if one is available and it is appropriate for the content we're producing. There are templates for different types of content. We might need to adapt one to make it relevant for the content we're writing about.

We can clone an existing page if the content is similar enough to the one we need to produce.

Each new patient information page requires the writer to produce:

  • page titles and urls
  • metadescription text
  • the body text
  • key wording
  • references
  • related links

We also work with our information designer to produce and revise diagrams and videos. And we can commission new photos where these are needed. 

  • Each page should be about one topic and must have a clear focus. 
  • We use the language that web users are using (see Google Trends).
  • We break the information into self contained, useful chunks (entities) – each entity (subsection) needs a clear and relevant heading. 
  • We make one point per paragraph.
  • We have a maximum of 4 sentences per paragraph.
  • We have a maximum of 4 paragraphs per heading.
  • On each page and in each subsection we put the key point or fact first to address the user need and then expand with more detail.
  • We're specific not generic to help personalise journeys for users – for example we can say which other conditions may cause the same symptoms as a type of cancer but don’t describe or give other information about the conditions.
  • We use images, diagrams, photos or video where appropriate to break up the text.

Every web page (such as homepage or subpage) has its own title. These are H1 headings. Ideally, page titles should include the search term for which the website has been optimised (for example cancer).
 
Example: Symptoms of oesophageal cancer
 
Titles are:

  • Clear and unique and specific to the page (eg Symptoms of oesophageal cancer)
  • Giving context where needed – such as cancer type
  • Under 55 characters (including spaces) where possible
  • Front-loaded – the most relevant word is first
  • Optimised for search, including keywords
  • In sentence case – The first letter only is capitalised, except if proper nouns are included (such as Treatment for Barrett’s oesophagus)

Web pages have a hierarchy of headings. We use from H1 (the title) down to H3. 

Search engines use headings, especially H1s, to categorise and find information and not just to break up the text. They expect headings to include clues to the page’s main topics. So headings should include the main keywords of the page. 

The H1 heading indicates the most important topic of the page, and the other headings create subtopics.

Other headings: 

  • front load
  • under 6 words where possible
  • shoulder headings can sometimes be helpful in breaking up text and for users scanning the page

We fill in metadata information for every page. This includes the meta description and url. 

Urls

The url for each page begins: www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer

Specific page urls are constructed according to the location of the page within the site. The last section is the page title with hyphens between the words.

For example, the page Targeted drugs for breast cancer would have the url www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/targeted-cancer-drugs

Metadata

Within the metadata section of each page there is a field to fill in the page title and the meta description. This is the information that appears in a search engine.

To create the metadata you should:

  • keep titles under 55 characters
  • create an enticing description that is no longer than 160 characters: it is cut off if it is any longer

For cancer type sections: [page title] | [cancer type] | Cancer Research UK

For general cancer information: [page title] | Cancer information | Cancer Research UK

For coping pages: [page title] | Coping | Cancer Research UK

Keywords and tagging

Keywords for each page must be included in the content as fully as possible, especially at the top of the page. Check keywords with the About Cancer Assistant (Digital). 

Use the keywords to inform the meta description.  

All pages and entities must be tagged with the appropriate cancer type and subject of the content. 

Each content page should have one topic and should have a clear focus. So there is no limit to how short or long the page should be, as long as the main question or topic of the page has been answered.  

All content must be written in accordance with the style guide.

We use re-usable entities where possible. And we make sure that the content is appropriate and doesn’t duplicate information elsewhere on the page. This means when we create new content we might need to create new re-usable entities.

Each re-usable entity should be about one subject or issue. Bullet lists need to be in list paragraph format.

Titles of re-usable entities

Put the specific subject of the entity first, followed by the general subject or type of cancer, or both.

Examples:

  • Feeling or being sick - chemotherapy side effect - mild
  • Feeling or being sick - symptoms - upper gastrointestinal cancer
  • Feeling or being sick - symptom - advanced cancer
  • Planning radiotherapy - rectal cancer
  • After treatment - radiotherapy - bowel cancer
  • Before your test - endoscopy - upper gastrointestinal cancer
  • Before radiotherapy - cancer in general

We use lists to help make the information easier to read.

Bulleted items – known as bullet points – may be short phrases or single sentences. Different types of bullet points are used in different situations. 

Bulleted lists must always be created as a list paragraph.
 
To break up a long sentence  
We start with a lead in line including as much shared content as possible. We use a colon and don’t end bullets with ‘and’ or ‘or’: bullets are each an alternate ending to the lead in sentence. We front load each bullet if possible. And we begin each bullet with a lower case letter and we don’t have a full stop at the end. For example:
 
For advanced oesophageal cancer your doctor might recommend chemotherapy to: 

  • shrink a cancer before surgery
  • help to control symptoms

Giving a list of tips 
Each bullet is a sentence so starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. For example:
 
Tips to help you sleep

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. 
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks) after early afternoon.
  • Make sure the room that you sleep in is a comfortable and soothing place. 

Boxed list  
Each box contains a sentence with a capital letter and a full stop. Or we can have a lead in sentence above the box, in which case use lower case and no full stop. For an example, see drug page schedules.

We include links to help guide people to further information about a particular subject or to guide them to the next most relevant page.

We:

  • only include links to relevant content and resources that support the user 
  • use a pink Call To Action (CTA) link for the most important next step the user should take
  • have a maximum of 6 related links on a page and link only to relevant content - where possible aim to have only one or two CTA links
  • comply with accessibility criteria: for people using site reading software, links may display as a list at the end of a page. So link text must make sense in its own right and describe the content on the link destination
  • avoid contextual hyperlinks (links within the content) and instead have call to actions (CTAs) below a subsection or at the end of the page
  • sometimes need to use contextual hyperlinks but avoid where possible: you can see an example on our A to Z list page - Your cancer type

When using contextual hyperlinks

  • Avoid using single word links as they are hard to tap on mobile.

  • Avoid linking out when you can provide a short explanation instead.

  • Don't repeat links. 

  • Avoid linking to different resources using the same link text.

  • Keep links concise – limit to about 4 or 5 words.

  • Avoid using whole sentences as a link.

  • When creating content as a word document, create any links as an embedded link in the text and include the node number of pages in the CMS afterwards in square brackets: for example, Find out more about chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer [LINK node/11192]

We use diagrams, photos, animations or video content where appropriate to clarify the meaning and make information more visually appealing. We don’t overuse images because they can clutter the information. 

These design features can help to explain difficult concepts and break up the text. We think creatively about where to include diagrams or illustrations.

All of our visual content goes through the same rigorous process as any of our other information.

Diagrams
The writer requesting the information produces a sketch. These are used by our information designer or a specialist medical illustrator to create the diagram. 

Labelling should be in plain English.

Videos and animations

These should be focussed and short - usually under 2 minutes. We think about splitting it into 2 if it is likely to be longer. The Information designer creates a script to go with it.

We tell users how long the video is: for example 2 minutes.

All of our visual content is checked throughout the development process (from storyboard to final product) by a specialist in the relevant field and by a lay reviewer. 

Cancer Research UK has guidelines on creating content for video and animation. This includes ensuring we have signed consent from anyone taking part in the video.

We collect information including:

  • the number of views
  • how long people watch the video for (audience retention)
  • comments from users
  • likes and shares

This information informs the development of future videos and animations.

The help banner is at the bottom of every page. It has links to the nurse helpline, trials database and our online forum CancerChat.

We use stories from people with cancer and their relatives where possible. These are popular with site users. They must be checked for accuracy and signed off by subject matter experts in the patient information web team / health team as appropriate. 

Block quotes on content pages should be short, focused and relevant to the page content.

The story and block quote should be in first person and include a picture or image, and a short description of person saying the quote. For example, a parent or breast cancer survivor or xxxx [name] with prostate cancer. 

The story should use words from the source but break into sub sections if needed.
 

Last reviewed: 
09 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
09 Nov 2021