Reading level for web pages

Web pages should be easy to understand

All content on our sites should be understood by all residents. We aim for a reading age of 9 years old to match GOV.UK standard. This makes our information and services quick and easy to read at all levels. It benefits everyone and helps us ensure our website can be used by a wide range of customers.

The only exception is:

  • statutory information that is required by law to be published in a specific way, like legal information that must be verbatim.

Reading skills

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. We read like this by the time we're 9 years old.

Did you know

  • We do not read one word at a time. They bounce around, anticipate words and fill them in.
  • Our brain drops up to 30% of the text and still understands.
  • Our vocabulary grows but this reading skill stays with us as an adult.
  • We 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. By writing for a 9 year old reading age, we're also allowing professionals to take in information much quicker. More information can be read on GOV.UK's Writing for GOV.UK

How to write clearly and simply

  • Write in small chunks and avoid jargon
  • Write sentences that are 15 to 20 words
  • Write paragraphs that are 3 to 4 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'.

Microsoft Word uses a built in tool called Flesch. To use it, follow Microsoft's guidelines on how to Get your document's readability and level statistics.

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."

Smaller words and shorter sentences convey the same information but it's easier and quicker to read:

"We can hold a meeting before the award of a contract on request. Someone from our main departments will attend, and meeting minutes will show any changes to the tender documents."