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Plain speaking: is your website an easy read?

Written by Jacqui Burns, Texthelp

In another recent blog we turned the spotlight on website accessibility, and that all-important User Experience (UX). A well-designed site doesn’t only look great. It guides your customers on a smooth, effortless magic carpet ride to find the information they want.

For government bodies, healthcare trusts and other public providers there’s a duty of care – and a legal obligation – to ensure digital services are accessible to users with disabilities.

And there’s one aspect of accessibility that’s supremely important to all your online visitors: words, and how you use them. Beautiful graphics won’t help anyone who can’t understand what you’re saying.

Chores like paying council tax online aren’t fun at the best of times. But imagine for a moment that English isn’t your first language. Or that dyslexia makes reading a real challenge.

Poorly-chosen words are a big barrier to understanding. Not least for 5 million adults in England who are labelled as ‘functionally illiterate’ – while half the UK working population has a reading age of 11 years old or younger.

GOV.UK – Setting the industry standard

The Government Digital Service (GDS) introduced ‘mandatory’ guidelines for ‘writing and managing content’. Their style guide is an excellent source of advice.

In their own words, ‘The main purpose of GOV.UK is to provide information – there’s no excuse for putting unnecessarily complicated writing in the way of people’s understanding’. We agree.

At the top of their recommendations, is good online content that’s easy to read and understand. It uses:

  • Short sentences
  • Sub-headed sections
  • Simple vocabulary

So it’s a big worry that as many as 92% of Central Government and 66% of Local Government sites don’t meet recommended readability standards.

Cost savings

Plain English matters. You’ll pay the price as a public service provider when you’re dealing with extra phone calls and costly walk-in visits from confused citizens.

Tone of voice matters, too. The way you’d speak formally to a colleague isn’t the same tone you’d adopt with a child or family friend, even if you’re delivering a similar message.

We all know the pitfalls of SHOUTY CAPITALS in emails – but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Your website speaks to a wide audience with differing expectations – and different levels of understanding. So when you’re addressing online visitors, think how those all-important words will be received by your audience. Which sounds better: “Click here to access information on managing Council Tax payments” or “Help with paying your Council Tax”?

Keep things clear and simple. And choose your words carefully so they’re better understood. You can make it easier for yourself – and your site visitors – with friendly tools that automatically check your web text for readability.

We’d love to hear the steps you have taken to improve Plain English on your website. Feel free to add your comments in the text box below.

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