Piles of documents on a desk

As with any other online content, we also have a responsibility to publish accessible documents. Generally, our advice is that web pages should be used as the primary way for publishing information online. If you do still need to publish a document, then it can be an effective way of sharing long and detailed content with your audience that they may wish to download, read or print later, for example, large reports with multiple diagrams, long essays, detailed terms and conditions or forms.

But, linking to a document should only be used in addition to your web page content, not instead of.

It is important when uploading your documents online that you consider your audience, accessibility and file naming conventions.

Document Do's

  • Do consider whether the information in the document would be better on the web page.
  • Do consider your audience. Is the file content suitable for public viewing? You should make your documents available to the public, unless it contains sensitive data.
  • Do ensure the file name is concise and describes the content of the document.
  • Do create document links that include the file type in brackets e.g. File name (PDF). This is to make users aware that they are downloading a document and not just clicking on a web link.
  • Do create document link text that includes the file size in brackets e.g. File name (PDF, 4.5 MB). This is to make users aware of the size of the document they are downloading.
  • Do use hyphens (-) to separate words instead of spaces otherwise the web browser with use the percentage (%) character instead.  e.g. ethos-gym-opening-hours.pdf
  • Do provide document link text that identifies the purpose of the document without needing additional context. Meaningful document links help users choose which links to open or download and is great for accessibility.
  • Do use PDF file format for your documents, unless users are required to edit the document.

Document Don'ts

  • Don’t upload a document if the content could be displayed straight on the web page. Find out more about avoiding PDF for on-screen reading.
  • Don’t use versioning or vague file naming conventions e.g. File name version 8.2 20 Jan 2017 New.
  • Don’t overwrite files with a new version name, name the file exactly as the previous file, this helps keep the CMS clean and the web links will not break.
  • Don't use special characters in your file names as this may cause issues with publishing via the CMS. These include < > ; ‘ “ ~ ` ,$ £ # @ ^ *
  • Don't share documents with sensitive data to the public, you should restrict the file to an internal folder or investigate other storage options.

You may also be interested in finding out about best practice for uploading images.

Advice for making PDFs more accessible

We have some guidance on publishing accessible documents online and GOV.UK has some great advice on publishing accessible documents including guidance on creating and converting PDFs as well as tools and techniques for checking the accessibility of documents. 

Further reading