Reading level for web pages

Web pages should be easy to understand

All content on our sites should be able to be read and understood by an average 14-year-old. We aim for a reading age of 14 or below to make our information and services quicker and easier to understand. This benefits everybody and helps us ensure our website can be used by a wide range of people.

The only exceptions to aiming for a reading age of 14 are:

  • statutory information that must be published in a specific way (for example. legal information that has to be verbatim)
  • writing exclusively for professionals where the content must include specific terms related to their work (such as lawyers or engineers).

Even in these instances, you should still consider if it is possible to write the text for a reading age of 14 or below.

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 SCC Info.
  • 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. The minutes for the meeting will record any changes to the tender documents. Normally, someone from each of our main departments will attend."