Is your content easy-to-read and understandable to a layperson?

Web content is often scanned rather than read line-by-line. Jargon, acronyms and technical terminology can make this difficult, and give the impression that a page is written for experts rather than for everybody.This leads to a perception that the council is not accessible. It also inevitably leads to people seeking information elsewhere, or through other means.

Poorly written content online often leads to an increase in telephone calls and emails to the council to clear up confusion. The average cost of a interacting with a customer via a phone call is usually estimated to be around £2, whereas online is estimated at 20p.

Could you understand your page with no prior knowledge of it’s content?

You should consider the following…

Does it get to the point?

Your page should set out its purpose within the first sentence.

Is it written in an accessible tone, in plain English, without being over-familiar?

Your page should:

  • Be interesting but serve a purpose
  • Be approachable but not too chummy
  • Feel modern but not try to be ‘down with the kids’
  • Focus on your council’s customers not internal services

Does it avoid jargon?

Is it presented in an interesting and intuitive way?

Information should be in a common-sense order. Don’t assume the customer already knows what you’re talking about in your introductory sentence.

Big blocks of text are difficult to read. Consider presenting ‘sets’ of related information in tables or introducing bulleted lists.

Use bold text, but sparingly. Avoid different coloured or differently sized text wherever possible, and never use italics or underlining.

Are headings used appropriately to break content up into identifiable sections?

Headings provide a means for customers to quickly scan a page and identify the content they want to read. However, having too many headings can make a page look cluttered, making it harder to scan, so finding a good balance is key.

The important thing to keep in mind is to use the correct HTML headings rather than bold text. The styling used will visually imply sections and sub-sections of text, and will do the same for screen readers, aiding accessibility.

If a content page is long and contains a lot of headings, it can help to break down the text over a number of separate pages. Not only will this aid readabilty, but it will also improve your SEO as keywords will be more relevant on shorter pages.

All content in this guide is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0, except where otherwise stated.