Writing clearly and simply makes web pages easier for everyone to understand.
We aim for our pages to have a reading age of 9 years old. This matches GOV.UK's content design guidance standard.
Why is reading age important?
As a child, we quickly learn to read the 5,000 words we use most. We then stop reading these words and start recognising their shape. This allows us to read much faster.
Most people read like this by the time they are 9 years old. Our vocabulary may continue to grow but this basic reading skill stays with us as an adult.
Everyone benefits from pages that are quick and easy to read.
Writing for a reading age of 9-years-old helps us ensure our website can be used by a wide range of people. This includes people who find reading difficult and people with English as a second language
It also helps professional and specialist audiences. Research shows that people with higher levels of literacy prefer easy-to-read text because it allows them to understand information as quickly as possible.
More information can be read on GOV.UK's Writing for GOV.UK
How to write clearly and simply
- Never assume your reader knows the subject or can read as well as you can
- Write in small chunks - include just one idea per sentence
- Keep sentences to less than 20 words – split longer sentences into two or more shorter ones.
- Split large blocks of text into smaller paragraphs – it makes it easier to read
- Keep paragraphs to no more than 3 or 4 sentences
- Avoid jargon
- Use simple words rather than complicated ones
- Follow plain English guidance
- Read through your text and get someone else to read it.
Tools to help you
Use the editor in Microsoft Word to find ways to make your writing clearer. You can find the editor button on the home ribbon or the review ribbon.
You can also get a quick check of how complicated your text is by using the Hemingway website.
Microsoft Word also has a built-in tool to check reading age. To use it, follow Microsoft's guidelines on how to Get your document's readability and level statistics.
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."
Smaller words and shorter sentences say the same thing, but it's easier and quicker to read:
"You can ask us to hold a meeting before the award of a contract. Usually, someone from each of our main departments will attend. We will take meeting minutes to record any changes to the tender documents."
Do all pages have to be written for a 9-year-old reading age?
We know that:
- Most pages, even ones with complicated information, can be written for a reading age of 9 years. It is easier to do this for some pages than others.
- Writing for a 9-year-old reading age is not as easy as you think. Most people have to practice a bit before they can do it well.
- Pages that are written simply and clearly are much more effective than ones that are not.
This means that you should aim for all your pages to be simple and clear. Get the text as close to a reading age of 9-years-old as you can. This includes pages aimed at professional or specialist audiences.
The only definite exception to this is information that is required by law to be published with specific wording. This may have higher reading age, but you may want to also include a simpler summary of the text.
If you believe your page needs to have a higher reading age, contact Web and Digital Services for advice.