Content planning – Content design: planning, writing and managing content – Orientation

Documents created in open formats can be opened with free or paid software.

This means that they:

  • can be read and used by more people
  • help people share their work more easily
  • make it easier and cheaper to do business with the government

The government is committed to publishing documents (including texts, presentations, tables and graphics) using open standards.

If you publish a PDF or other non-HTML document without an accessible version, you may be breaking the law.

Learn more about publishing accessible documents.

Whitehall Publisher: Publishing documents designed to be searchable

Document “viewing” standards apply to documents that users are expected to read, rather than edit or interact with them.

Publish Whitehall documents as HTML if they are designed to be viewed (rather than edited, like a form). For example, a business report.

Whitehall Publisher: Publishing documents designed to be edited

If users need to enter information, you must either:

  • create a service – if it has 7,000 transactions per year or more

  • publish a form – if it has less than 7,000 transactions per year

If you cannot create a form in HTML, you must create an OpenDocument (for example .odt or .ods) and publish it with a version in at least one other format. Whichever other format you choose, you need to make it as accessible as possible.

There are several formats you need to give users to choose from. This makes sure that they can access the information without the need for certain software. OpenDocuments are more accessible than PDFs for assistive technology users, but there are issues opening certain types of formats on some devices.

You should also tell users how to contact you to request a different accessible version of the form. You can do this by leaving the “Attachment is accessible” box unchecked for all versions of the form when you download them. This is important even if you are publishing accessible versions – some users will still need the information in other formats, like British Sign Language (BSL), audio or braille.

You should keep the formatting simple in your OpenDocument. Find out how to create an OpenDocument with simple formatting.

Whitehall Editor: Publishing documents designed for printing

You can publish a PDF if it is a document designed to be printed and read on paper, such as promotional material, a booklet, or a leaflet.

You must publish an accessible version with – HTML or OpenDocument. If you don’t, you could be breaking the law.

Whitehall editor: easy to read and unsupported languages

It is currently not possible to publish documents in Easy Read HTML format with the image on the left and text on the right. Use PDF and follow the instructions for Easy Read format. Make sure you provide a way for users to request an accessible version.

If a language is not supported in HTML by Whitehall Publisher, for example Albanian or Bosnian, you should publish your document in .odt and PDF format if possible. If your document contains read-only information, you can publish it as a PDF. Make sure you provide a way for users to request an accessible version.

Specialized editor

HTML is not available in Specialist Publisher. Publish an OpenDocument with the source Word or Excel document.

There is one exception to publishing OpenDocuments in Specialist Publisher: documents that could be misused if edited can be published as PDF. Here are some examples:

Other GOV.UK publishing platforms

For documents designed to be viewed, publish in HTML where the publishing platform allows.

For documents designed to be edited, publish them in the OpenDocument format.

HTML is not available in Travel Advice Publisher – you need to publish OpenDocuments.


Open standards rules do not apply to datasets designed solely to be machine readable by external software.

If you are currently publishing data as .csv files, you can continue to do so.

If you need to publish structured data like tables or spreadsheets, you should use:

  • .ods – an open format that can be used in free, open source, or proprietary licensed software
  • .csv – a machine-readable format that allows users to process the data it contains

Do not use .csv files for data that people (rather than machines) need to read.

Avoid publishing statistical tables or datasets within a PDF or other format designed primarily for text. This makes it more difficult for users who rely on assistive technologies such as screen readers who speak text on a page. This can include people who are visually impaired and dyslexic. Instead, try providing them separately using .ods or .csv.

The Government’s Statistical Service has issued detailed guidelines on publishing statistics in accessible spreadsheets.

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Jenny T. Curlee

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