Write in plain English
Why use plain English
Plain English is direct, everyday language. We need to write so that all our customers can find and understand information - regardless of ability, age, language, location or device. You should write so that:
- anyone can find and understand the information
- it's easier to translate into other languages.
We recommend you write your content for a reading level of age 9 or lower. If you're unable to achieve reading age 9, the more readable you can make your content, the better.
When using technical language, aim for a reading age of 12 to 14. This is consistent with WCAG 2.1 criterion 3.1.5 level AAA. Consider also using supplemental diagrams for complex information to increase the user's understanding.
Research shows that people with a higher literacy level prefer plain English.
Tips for writing content
- Get to the point straight away
- Use short words and sentences
- Keep it in an active voice, not passive
- Write the way you would speak
- Use contractions like you'll (but avoid negative contractions like can't)
- Minimise capital letters
- Use short sentences or a short bullet list instead of long sentences
- Avoid slang, clichés or metaphors (they don't translate into other languages well)
- Use 'you' when you're talking about your reader, 'we' when you're talking about your agency
- Read your content out loud. If it sounds unnatural, go back and simplify it.
How to test your content
You should include readability testing in your content workflow process – from creation through to review and publishing. You can use free tools such as:
These tools will help you assess if your content is in plain English. They score its reading age level. Note you will need to convert US reading grades to the Australian-equivalent age. US grades 3 and 4 are equivalent to an Australian age 9.