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Reading level for web pages

Web pages should be easy to understand

All content should be able to be read and understood by an average 14 year old 'reading age'. This is to ensure everyone who accesses our website for information can quickly and easily understand everything. Remember, people read and take in information differently so aiming for a low reading age ensures we meet our duty to provide clear information to everyone.

The only exceptions are when statutory information must be published in a specific way (e.g. laws and policies), or when writing exclusively for professionals where the content must include specific terms related to their work (e.g. lawyers or engineers). Even in these instances you should be aware that all web pages on our website can be accessed by residents and our duty to provide clear information applies.

How to write clearly and simply

  • Text is easier to understand if it is in small chunks and avoids jargon.
  • Aim to write sentences that are 15 to 20 words and paragraphs that are three to four sentences.
  • Follow the guidance on plain English available on s-net.
  • Never assume the reader has previous knowledge of the subject.
  • Read through your content to make sure it is clear and makes sense. If possible, get a friend or family member who is unfamiliar with the subject to read it and check it is easily understood.

Readability tools

It is possible  to check how complicated your text is by using 'readability tools' such the Plain English Campaign's Drivel Defence tool. Keep in mind that although this tool is useful to see how complicated your text actually is, it is not a substitute for proofreading.

There are also a number of online measure tools such as Flesch, which is built into Word. To use it:

  1. Select the Review tab and then the Spelling & Grammar button.
  2. Select Options and make sure the checkbox is ticked for 'Show readability statistics' under 'When correcting spelling and grammar in Word'.
  3. Click on Spelling & Grammar to start the check and work through the issues as they are found.
  4. At the end of the check, the readability score will be displayed with all of the other readability statistics. A Flesch score of 55 or more is good.

Example

This paragraph has a high reading age:

"Normally for this type of enquiry a pre-award meeting is held at the customer's request that is formally minuted to record any of the changes to tender documents and generally has representatives from all our main departments."

Reworded and split into smaller sentences, the paragraph now has a lower reading age  but still contains the same information:

"Usually, for this type of enquiry, we can hold a meeting before the award of the contract if you ask us to. This is noted in the minutes for the meeting to record any changes to the tender documents. Normally, someone from each of our main departments will attend."

Why we have a reading level of aged 14 or below

People with a range of backgrounds and abilities use our site. People also read, access and understand information differently. We have an obligation to make sure that the information on our site is easily understood. By aiming to write for a lower reading level, we ensure our web authors are writing for all of our customers.

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