Reading level for web pages

Web pages should be easy to understand

All content on our sites should be read and understood by all residents. We aim for a reading age of 9 to match GOV.UK standards, and to make our information and services quick and easy to understand. This benefits everybody and helps us ensure our website can be used by a wide range of people.

The only exceptions are:

  • statutory information that must be published in a specific way like legal information that must be verbatim

Reading skills

Children quickly learn to read common words (these are the 5,000 words they use most). They then stop reading these words and start recognising their shape. This allows people to read much faster. Children already read like this by the time they're 9 years old.

People also do not read one word at a time. They bounce around - especially online. They anticipate words and fill them in.

Your brain can drop up to 30% of the text and still understand. Your vocabulary will grow but this reading skill stays with you as an adult. You do not need to read every word to understand what is written.

This is why we follow GOV.UK's content design guidance to write for a 9 year old reading age.

Research also shows that higher literacy people prefer plain English because it allows them to understand the information as quickly as possible. More information can be read on GOV.UK's Writing for GOV.UK

How to write clearly and simply

  • Write in small chunks and avoids jargon
  • Write sentences that are 15 to 20 words
  • Write paragraphs that are three to four sentences
  • Follow Plain English guidance available
  • Never assume the reader knows the subject or has high literacy levels
  • Read through your content and get someone else to read it.

Readability tools

Check how complicated your text is by using 'readability tools', such as the Plain English Campaign's Drivel Defence tool.

Another tool is 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."

Using smaller words and shorter sentences, the paragraph contains the same information but is easier and quicker to read:

"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."